I bet you think that sitting in a Marion County Board of Commissioners meeting room for almost four hours listening to people talk about Sensitive Groundwater Overlay (SGO) zone policies would be boring. Well, if you think this, you’d be absolutely right.
But there we were at 10 a.m. yesterday, Laurel and me, along with a half dozen other Spring Lake Estates residents who wanted to let the Commissioners know what we think about the current loose and lax county system that almost allowed a lot to be partitioned here, and an extra well drilled, when it was proven that this would have led to unsustainable depletion of the groundwater needed by current homes.
Laurel got quoted in an article that was in today’s Statesman-Journal. After the meeting, when I saw the reporter talking to Laurel, naturally I tried to butt in and offer some witty, quotable comments of my own, but unfortunately the reporter could tell the difference between (1) a woman who has led the fight to improve the county SGO ordinance and knows what she is talking about, and (2) a publicity-seeking husband who just wants to get his name in the paper.
Laurel’s testimony was concise, clear, and well prepared, per usual. Mine was much more off-the-cuff, though I did spend five minutes the night before doing a little research on water in one of my science books. I was able to tell the Commissioners that three and a half billion years ago nature provided the Earth with just about all the water we’ll ever have, when the oceans filled to their approximate present level. I also pointed out that humans are about two-thirds water, which makes water pretty darn important for each of us.
Along with almost all of the dozen or so people who testified, I pointed out that groundwater limited areas like ours are presumed to (duh…) have limited groundwater according to the state Water Resources Department. So obviously anyone who wants to partition a lot, drill an extra well, and put even more stress on an over-stressed aquifer should have to jump over an extremely high hurdle.
This also was the Planning Department staff recommendation, and it was the recommendation of Rick Kienle, the hydrogeologist who wrote the famous (in Marion County groundwater circles, at least) “Kienle Report” that formed the scientific basis for the SGO ordinance. So professionals wanted conservative criteria for allowing additional lots in a groundwater limited zone. And the people who live in such an area testified that they wanted the county to set strict standards to protect their current wells and water supply.
So it was obvious what the County Commissioners would do, right? They are all Republicans. They are all avowed conservatives. So they would want to protect the property rights of rural residents who already live in groundwater limited areas, right? They wouldn’t want our wells to go dry just to line the pockets of greedy people who partition a lot, sell their land, and then go live in the city, would they?
Well, this was exactly what Commissioners Sam Brentano and Patty Milne wanted. We hope Marion County rural voters will keep this in mind when they decide whether to elect Brentano to the position he was appointed to some time back. Laurel and I knew that Milne was hopelessly on the side of real estate developers, but Brentano had made some nice-sounding public statements about needing to protect rural residents from the perils of over-development.
We were dismayed to see, though, that when it came time to make a motion on changes to the current ordinance, Brentano was determined to make it as easy as possible for lot partitionings to occur, no matter if people who currently live near that lot have to pay many thousands of dollars to deepen or replace their wells. Milne tagged along with Brentano.
Neither she nor Brentano appeared to have understood the two and a half hours of expert and citizen testimony that they supposedly had been listening to. I suspect they day-dreamed away the time, visualizing all the campaign contributions that would be coming in from real estate developers and well-diggers when they ignored the needs of rural people and voted in favor of as much development in groundwater limited areas as possible.
The whole show was disgusting, once the commissioners closed the public hearing and started debating what to do. The only saving grace was Commissioner Janet Carlson, chair, who has both a good grasp of the issues and compassion for those whose wells are at risk of going dry when too many lots are added to an area that can’t sustain them. Carlson pointed out the obvious flaws in what Brentano and Milne wanted to do, and saved the SGO ordinance from having too much damage inflicted on it.
So we came away pleased that some minor improvements had been approved by the Commissioners, but disappointed that narrow-minded politics and developer ass-kissing on the part of Brentano and Milne prevented the board from doing what so obviously needed to be done. Laurel will be back in a couple of years when the ordinance is revised again. Hopefully Brentano and Milne won’t be around, which will happen if the Marion County voters realize how little they care about the needs of rural residents, and how much they care about real estate developers.