10/28/2008: "Critical Area Designation Delayed"
A public hearing on Monday (see related story below) to designate San Juan County a Critical Area Resource Area (CARA) drew a standing room only crowd, and all who testified agreed aquifers need to be protected but -with one exception- they also objected to declaring all of San Juan County a “critical” aquifer.
Senior Planner Shireene Hale, and Vicki Heater from Environmental Health department, (photo above) gave an overview of the proposed ordinance, and answered questions from the County Council.
Hale said that only minor changes were made in the existing ordinance to both update it to be in compliance with the law, and to make some changes that would make it easer for businesses to comply.
One other important advantage she said, is a change that will allow sewer and water to be extended outside of an Urban Growth Area (UGA), without having to apply for a variance.
There was testimony -and follow up questions from the Council- as to why it is necessary to declare the whole county a critical aquifer, if there are already controls and regulations in place to protect the aquifers.
The ordinance, they said, will not stop intentional or accidental chemical dumping or spills, so what is to be gained by the designation?
Councilman Ranker asked how many spills, intentional or accidental have we had? Hale said she did not know, since they did not have any data, only anecdotal comments. Ranker said: “that is data.”
One of the concerns stated by the public was that once the whole county is designated “critical”, then other unrelated regulations that deal with any critical issues may, ipso facto, be apply to all of the county; not because the regulations were relevant, but simply because the county had been so labeled.
This brought up a question raised in the minority report about the “unintended consequences” of the ordinance. Councilman Howard Rosenfeld asked if any examples of the possible consequences had been given, and was told none had.
After the hearing, former County Commissioner John Evans, one of the authors of the minority report, told the Island Guardian that “State law makes blanket proclamations based on what something is called.. If everything in the county is called a critical aquifer recharge area, any new state rules for a CARA would apply county wide, whether or not it makes sense locally.”
Evans loves analogies, and he had one for the current issue: “One way of considering this is to use a hospital example where they offer differing levels of care based on the medical problem the person has... from a base of observation and education to intensive care for critical cases. It is a waste or resources to treat every case to the full blown critical care protocols. Calling and treating everything in SJC as critical is a waste of scarce resources.’ He said
During the hearing the council members kept coming back to why it would be necessary to classify the whole county critical, and at one point County Administrator Pete Rose responded to the questioning by stating “we can get at this in a different way, by imposing a different set of rules, without making the whole county a critical area.”
Councilman Rich Peterson said “it is too broad a brush; some areas are clearly critical, but that does not mean all of the county needs to be.”
Hale told the Council that it would be possible to modify the language to address the concerns, and thereby avoid applying the “critical” designation to all parcels in the county.
A number of comments were made about the importance of making sure the public knows what this ordinance may mean to them. Steve Buck said more needs to be done when the County is making decisions that can have a major effect on the their property. Sending out 250 emails to those who have requested to be contacted is not adequate, and a “notice in the Journal is not adequate. They [property owners] need to be personally notified well ahead of time.”
Councilman Bob Myhr responded back that the council often makes such decisions, and the public has a “responsibility to find out what is going on at the council level.”
In the end the Council decided to keep the record open so that the public can send in written comments,, and the Council will re-open the hearing on November 18th. It is expected the Council will make a decision on the matter at that time.