Yes, it was the night before Thanksgiving, and where else would Laurel and Brian be until 7:30 pm but at a hearing on the proposed Nielsen lot partition that has occupied so much of our time (mainly Laurel’s, for she is the Groundwater Protection Activist of the Year, without question, in Spring Lake Estates at least). Wednesday was the long-awaited remand hearing, remanded, that is, from the state Land Use Board of Appeals and the Marion County Board of Commissioners.
Right off the bat we observed something strange: the Nielsen’s hydrologist, Nick Coffey, was nowhere in sight. And he never did appear, his place being taken by a retiree from the Water Resources Department, Sam Ellison. Sam, refreshingly, was pretty honest and straightforward. He ended up agreeing with our positions more often than not, as an ethical hydrologist should, because this case is about facts and how best to protect groundwater in our neighborhood, simple truths that Nick Coffey never seemed to realize—as was clearly demonstrated by our hydrologists, Malia and Greg Kupillas.
After the hearing I told Malia that her presentation, complete with overhead slides and a laser pointer, was a hydro-geology work of art. I find hydro-geology, which I’ll shorten to hydrology, fairly interesting, but usually not all that compelling. How can you get excited about aquifers, basalt vs. marine sediment formations, static water levels? Well, Malia and Greg are both excellent speakers—Malia particularly—and have a knack for producing exceedingly clear and informative visuals. For the first time, I felt like I understood how groundwater basically works. (Malia’s finest moment was when she made her laser pointer represent a single raindrop, and traced its journey as it falls on the ground and makes its way into an aquifer).
I wished that Coffey could have been there to hear Malia and Greg demolish his flimsy arguments about the adequacy of groundwater in Spring Lake Estates. Repeatedly Malia would comment, “Nick said in the narrative of his report that he was going to base his calculations on X, but when I looked into what he actually did, it was Y. I found it strange that he would claim he was going to do one thing, and in reality end up doing something else.” Laurel and I can’t believe that the hearings officer can do anything but deny, as she did initially, the Nielsen’s lot partitioning request. Malia and Greg, along with the owners of three properties surrounding the Nielsen lot, conclusively proved that static water levels have dropped hundreds of feet over the past few decades, and our area simply can’t tolerate an extra well being drilled.
There are people in the neighborhood who have longstanding plans to build on their vacant lot, perhaps when they retire, and they would be the ones most hurt if the Nielsens were able to move out of the area (as they already have), partition their lot to make some extra bucks, and cause surrounding wells to go dry. Wells have seniority rights, so the first-drilled well gets priority over the second-drilled well when groundwater is depleted. So the person causing the problem doesn’t necessarily suffer the consequences of their selfish action. It often is someone who wants to build on their lot, but now can’t because of a lack of water, who ends up getting hurt.
Well, hopefully Laurel’s passion for this cause has prevented this from occurring. The Nielsens have two weeks to respond to the Kupillas’ report, then the hearings officer will make her decision. We’ll keep you posted. Admittedly, this isn’t the O.J. trial, but this case has a certain fascination—as most legal (or in this instance, quasi-legal) proceedings do. When Laurel testified she was rudely interrupted by Denny Nielsen yelling from the audience to the hearings officer, “Are you going to let her say that? That isn’t relevant!” Laurel kept her cool, and, like the O.J. trial lawyers (we watched almost every minute on Court TV), told the hearings officer/judge that Mr. Nielsen had raised similar issues in his own testimony, at which point the hearings officer said, “I’ll allow this line of testimony.” “Yes!,” I yelled in my mind. Then I thought, “What is the age limit for applying to law school? This is fun.”