The BOCC Should Do No Harm
The rezoning issue on the Coeur d'Alene Tribe Reservation is a hot subject for fee simple landowners on the Reservation. The primary argument against rezoning is that it could reduce property values. While this is what happens a lot of the time, it is not always the case.
When I speak with some property owners, I try to explain that it is not just your ability to subdivide that could affect your property value. It's also your neighbors' ability to subdivide that can affect your property value if the new wells from growth affect your existing well.
This issue could be amplified by non-resident property owners whose sole desire is to profit off of the community by developing those properties. If after this development it turns out older wells are being affected, then future development and subdividing might be stopped altogether.
Today the BOCC decided to seek another public hearing on the matter and look into a temporary code change that restricts minimum lot sizes to no less than 10 acres until the Coeur d'Alene Tribe completes its water studies so that the community has a chance to look at the study and provide feedback to the BOCC as to next steps.
I believe the BOCC has a duty to ensure that existing residents are not harmed by future growth, especially if that growth could affect one's ability to have access to water, which also happens to be a Right that's enshrined in our Idaho Constitution.
Below is my statement on the matter. It's also an opportunity for you, the public, to see how important I see these types of issues and that the BOCC has a duty and obligation to protect the welfare of existing county citizens over those who want to relocate here.
Here are those statements that were put into the record:
DO NO HARM
We often associate that creed with the medical profession
I believe that it should also apply to the BOCC, especially when it comes to water
A while back a farmer in Benewah County was irrigating a hay field that affected surrounding residents’ wells. He stopped irrigating out of concern for his neighbors.
Those people were fortunate to have a considerate farmer stop watering his field so his neighbors’ wells would not be affected – but that’s not the norm.
We know that new wells can affect existing wells
We know that water is less available in the southern part of the county than compared to the prairie
We know that the financial burden for a new well can cost upwards of $50k to $100k and even more depending on how many drilling attempts need to be made. For most people this can be a devastating expense.
By allowing unrestricted and irresponsible growth to occur in this community, this is how the BOCC can allow longtime citizens to be harmed…and we can affect this outcome.
The Board of County Commissioners, in my opinion, has a duty to prioritize the welfare of the current county citizens over those who want to move here…and that means limiting the ability of one to subdivide their properties if it affects existing residents ability to have water.
Water is a real issue in this county, like it is in most of the west, and we (as a Board) increase the likelihood of harm to existing citizens if we allow for more density without considering its effects on existing citizens’ wells.
The Board has received information that there are plenty of recent wells that produce significant volumes of water. But that information is merely a snapshot at the time the wells were found and tested. It does not take into account all the drilling attempts to find water that failed, which could significantly affect how that data is viewed.
Further, there is no data to show how existing wells are being affected by new wells over time. Waiting to hear from longtime citizens that their wells are running dry due to new growth is (I believe) a grossly negligent policy and should never be contemplated by this Board or any other. I believe this Board should be looking at ways to ensure that developers prove that new wells will not affect existing wells.
Conversely … I do not believe that we should ram our policies onto homeowners unwillingly. It breeds contempt and an adversarial stance between government and citizens.
Instead, I prefer government to provide good information to citizens, and in this case hope that with that information they can come together and decide as a group what is best for their community and seek the BOCC to memorialize that desire into a new code or zoning change.
At this point it is my understanding that the Tribe is somewhere within 12 to 18 months away from having real data on water in that area. I believe that it is prudent that the community have access to that data so that everyone can have an opportunity to evaluate it and even have it reviewed by third parties if they so choose.
Until we can look at more comprehensive water reports, I am concerned about those property owners who have no ties to the community and are wanting to subdivide their land into major subdivisions purely for profit motives. This is where we can put a temporary pause on such development until we can know for sure as much as we can that these new homes and their accompanying wells will not affect those people who currently live there.
I recommend that this Board consider allowing for a voluntary rezoning for those property owners on the reservation who wish to opt into it and instruct Community Development to develop a new Code Amendment to restrict subdivisions on the Reservation to no less than 10 acre lot sizes for a minimum of two years, preferably three, so that the water studies can be completed in the area and the community and Board have a chance to review and establish a way to ensure that any new development WILL NOT, and I repeat, WILL NOT, affect existing homeowners’ wells.
I ask that the Board consider this recommendation as a viable option for this community today.
Here's some additional commentary on the issue that the CDA Press printed if you have not seen it: