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For the week of March 6 - 12, 2002


Orchards faces scrutiny on septic plan

Express Staff Writer

A proposed neighborhood south of Hailey has become the first development to face increased scrutiny under the Blaine County government’s recent push to protect water quality.

The Orchards developer Bob Dreyer asked the Blaine County Commission Wednesday night of last week for final approval to subdivide his 21.5-acre parcel on Broadford Road into 21 residential lots.

But the commission criticized Dreyer’s plan to allow 21 individual septic systems on the property because it could lead to contamination of groundwater in the area.

The commission has not yet voted on the plan, but Chairwoman Mary Ann Mix told Dreyer that he should be prepared to consider a different method of sewage treatment because the commission might not approve his project with septic systems.

The property is located outside the city of Hailey, so the Orchards would not be able to hook up to the city’s sewage treatment plant.

Dreyer is the first developer since the 1970s to propose installing septic systems on lots of less than one acre. The South Central District Health Department since then has required lots of at least one acre.

District Health supervisor Bob Erickson, who approved the septic system plan, again voiced his support for it last week. He said that the entire project would result in 21 septic systems on 21.5 acres—even though open space would make each lot smaller than an acre—so the project’s effect on water quality would be the same as 21 systems on 21 lots of one acre each.

The commission could require the developer to install a smaller version of a city-style treatment plant, called a package plant, instead of the septic systems.

A package plant would treat the sewage and eject clean water into the ground or the Big Wood River. But Dreyer said package plants are a "mixed bag" because they create much bigger problems than septic systems if they malfunction.

Dreyer said the land is currently used to grow alfalfa, the fertilizers for which pollute groundwater more than domestic septic systems would.

Dreyer is also asking the county to allow more houses to be built than normally would be allowed in exchange for his providing "superior design and amenities" in the proposed neighborhood.

But the commission appeared skeptical that Dreyer had offered enough to warrant the increased density.

Dreyer said his plan "preserves the rural character" of the area by providing open space and a three-rail white fence along Broadford Road. Also, his plan would create a central park with a pond, orchard and playground equipment.

But Commissioner Dennis Wright said, "if you build a playground next to a 10-foot-deep pond, you have just created the most attractive nuisance to children know to man."

The commissioners also voiced concern that whenever there’s thin ice on the pond in winter, it would be a hazard to animals.

That sparked a debate about whether the plan would adequately provide for the well-being of wild animals, something county planning rules state the plan must do.

"I don’t see this property as a wildlife corridor," the developer said, prompting an indignant stir from the audience, some of whom listed the moose, cougars and foxes they had recently seen.

Citizens who voiced support for the project mostly cited private property rights. They said the commission would be overstepping its authority if it denies the application.

The developer has until the final week of March to respond to a list of concerns the commission has about the plan. Another public hearing will be scheduled after that.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.