COSTS OF DEVELOPMENT

May 21, 2007 11:00 pm

JOSEPH — Measure 37 has opened up many possibilities of development in Wallowa County, especially around the city of Joseph. We have claims to the east, to the west and to the south of us, along with a proposal for a rezone leading to more dense development around the airport.

As much as I believe in private property rights, I believe in the rights of the developers to pay the true costs of developing their land and the rights of the citizens of surrounding lands to make the decisions on what costs they are willing to bear.

Looking to the future, striving to be pro-active instead of re-active, a good land use planner is constantly working against "The Law of Unintended Consequences" that is the truth that for every action there is a reaction.

While new development can bring about many jobs in the building phase and higher taxes paid to cities or counties, development also brings about increased costs of water, sewer, transportation and parks. Many times I hear, "If development is happening outside the city limits, why should the city be concerned or have a voice in these decisions?''

We hear that the developer or land owner will drill their own wells and build their own septic systems. This works well in very low density development, but when we are talking about the potential of the many subdivisions that Measure 37 could create, we must realize that this could negatively affect groundwater in the whole sub-basin watershed.

Basically this process will be one of taking clean water out of our aquifers and seeping dirty water in. The outflows from our current sewage system in Joseph are set by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, and based on the numbers measuring the outflow of the entire watershed basin. This number could be reset as soon as 2009, and could be broadly affected, thereby lowered, by intense Measure 37 development, increasing the discharge in the watershed groundwater.

This is also why the state of Oregon is busy trying to evaluate what long-term effects this increased development will have on watershed ground water systems as a whole. The battle over water for crops or development has already started in the Umatilla country, and is being played out in proposed state legislation now. As citizens we can educate ourselves on the issues, write our Legislature and thus become a part of the solution.

The danger that a surrounding city can face is that if these septic systems "fail," or are deemed to be a health hazard to a sub-basin because of this increased discharge, the city can be forced to provide sewer treatment, and the costs spread out among all the citizens, placing an unfair disadvantage and burden on long-term working and retired citizens of Joseph.

Many case studies of this phenomenon have happened in small towns, and citizens have been forced out of their homelands due to the increased costs perpetuated by un-planned development. I do not wish for this to happen to the citizens of Wallow County.

This discussion has only highlighted the costs of sewage treatment, probably the most costly. But there are also increased costs of water, transportation and parks.

When I ran for mayor I went up and down the streets of Joseph visiting with the citizens. I heard three things: I love my small town, we need an economy, and don't raise my water bill. This is the basis from which I make my decisions, especially those having such an impact and long-term effects on the way we all live our daily lives.

This same message has been played out in the visioning process, the RDAT process and continues to show that in Wallowa County we value working landscapes and small rural communities.

The city of Joseph will soon be having an open meeting to discuss these issues to inform our citizens and to get your input into your wishes for your future. Please join us as we begin this process of assessing the true costs of development and who will pay for them.

Peggy Kite-Martin is mayor of Joseph.