Well, another day, another front page Salem Statesman-Journal story about our neighborhood’s fight to prevent wells from being sucked dry by a Measure 37 subdivision.
The headline sums it up: “Concerns about water hinder development plan.” Once again (the first hearing was two weeks ago) the Marion County Planning Commission got an earful from nearby property owners as well as consultants hired by the Keep Our Water Safe (KOWS) committee that Laurel chairs.
Much of the testimony was technical and long-winded. The hearing lasted from 8 pm until after 11. But there was a moment when the absurdity of Measure 37, the ill-considered attempt to trash Oregon’s land use laws, came into cogent crystal-clear focus.
Leroy Laack, one of the owners of the 217 farmland acres that are proposed to become a subdivision, sat at the witness table for the first time. He told the commissioners that he’d waited thirty years to have a chance to develop his property (soon after he bought it, SB 100 went into effect and prevented productive farmland like his from being paved over).
“Property rights are the basis of our democracy,” Laack said. I thought, hmmm, I’m not so sure about that. Still, who can argue with such a fine all-American concept like “property rights”? Shouldn’t people be able to do what they want with their own land?
Short answer: no. One of the commissioners asked Laack, “Don’t your property rights stop when they infringe on mine?” Almost instantly Laack answered, “Yes, I agree.”
Honest answer, Mr. Laack. An answer that means your subdivision application should be turned down. Or at least, put on hold until a full hydrogeological study of the aquifer that you intend to tap for your 43 wells is conducted.
Even Laack’s own hydrogeologist, Malia Kupillas, testified that she should complete her assessment of the area’s groundwater capacity, and have it reviewed by an independent hydrogeologist, before the Planning Commission considered giving final approval to the subdivision application.
There simply is too great a risk that existing wells and the creek that feeds Spring Lake will be harmed by the proposed development. Larry Eaton, a hydrogeologist hired by our KOWS committee, discussed his most recent conclusions about the danger 43 new wells would pose to Spring Lake. Here’s his (4MB) memo, for groundwater detail junkies.
The commission also heard from additional neighbors (many others testified at the first hearing) who already have well problems. Plant a subdivision into the aquifer that they’re tapping, and those problems almost certainly will be exacerbated.
My wife, Laurel, presented her own persuasive testimony. Which, I have to say, looked and read nicely thanks to editing by her blogger husband. I’ll attach her memos in case you want a quick education in south Salem hills groundwater problems, and why current Marion County planning policies are inadequate to protect against further declines.
Laurel emphasized what Rick Kienle, who established the foundation for Marion County’s groundwater ordinance, told her in emails and a phone conversation: it’s necessary to conduct site-specific studies to find out what really is going on with an area’s water supply.
You can’t plug some numbers into a simplistic formula and claim that there’s enough water to support a subdivision, like Laack and company are trying to do. Kienle says that even if the lots are ten acres in size, a site-specific study still should be conducted.
By the way, ten acres is the minimum lot size if someone currently applies to convert Marion County farmland to housing. By contrast, Laack wants to put most of his homes on two to three acre lots. As a Measure 37 claimant, he feels that he’s entitled to do so. Even if that hurts surrounding property owners.
We’re confident that the Planning Commission will end up making the right decision: to either reject the application or require proof that existing wells and water rights won’t be harmed by the subdivision.
The commission is going to have a work session next Wednesday to discuss Measure 37 legal issues. Then they’ll have a third hearing on the Laack application on January 9.
Leroy Laack tried to play the “I’m 78 years old and just want a chance to do what I planned with my property” card. But I don’t feel a lot of sympathy for him. Hey, life isn’t predictable. Situations change. Land use laws change. Everything changes, if you believe the Buddhists.
He could have profitably farmed his property if he had wanted to, rather than leaving it mostly fallow all these years. A local farmer testified that he tried to lease Laack’s land, but was rebuffed. Laack wants to plant concrete and asphalt, not Christmas trees or grape vines.
The farmer said that the 217 acres Laack wants to make into a subdivision are perfect for a vineyard. Laack and his owners would have made millions of dollars by selling their property to a grape-grower. They still could. I’d buy the first case of wine. That’s a promise.
Lastly, we just received an informative PowerPoint presentation (1MB) by Todd Jarvis on Measure 37 and water issues. Jarvis is on the Water Resources faculty at Oregon State University and involved with the Institute for Water and Watersheds. Take a look.
(You can download a free PowerPoint viewer here.)