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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday — April 9, 2004


Planning for Blaine County’s future

Guest opinion by Christopher Simms

Christopher Simms is executive director of
Citizens for Smart Growth.

Members of the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission and a great number of citizens, have expressed frustration and concern with the application of Blaine County’s planning and zoning ordinances as well as general development trends in the county. Open space and agricultural lands continue to be eroded by subdivisions throughout the Wood River Valley. Sprawling development is harmful to wildlife habitat, air quality, water quality and ultimately our quality of life. The EPA rates Blaine County as a 5 on a scale of 6 for vulnerability to water quality problems.

The Blaine County Comprehensive Plan has not been reviewed for 10 years. Most of the planning and zoning code dates from 1977. Even the county’s own list of identified planning priorities have not, with one exception, been accomplished since Citizens for Smart Growth began tracking the issues in 1999. From a list including Area of Impact Agreements, Transfer of Development Rights Ordinance, McHanville rezone, Residential Building Size Ordinance, Community Housing and Dark Sky Ordinance, only a Wireless Tower Ordinance has been passed.

Recently, several subdivisions were approved along Broadford Road. Neighbors expressed concerns about wildlife impacts, congestion on Broadford Road, well and septic system failures, erosion and siltation of the river due to construction site vegetation removal, and a general reduction in resident’s quality of life. Because of our outdated planning and zoning laws, neither staff nor commissioners were able to reshape these subdivisions into more environmentally friendly developments.

Likewise, Blaine County has not completed planning to regulate citing of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations as required by an Idaho State Law enacted in July 2003. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations are known to cause unacceptably high levels of nitrate in groundwater. Drinking nitrate-contaminated water can cause "blue baby" syndrome in infants and a host of adult health problems. In fact, groundwater in Carey, adjacent to a large animal feeding operation and homes on septic systems, is polluted with nitrate beyond EPA allowable levels.

As our five cities develop and experience large increases in real estate prices, there is more and more demand to develop rural areas as subdivisions and to increase density in the county’s residential zoning districts. Demographics are also working against us. Population continues to explode as baby boomers retire and relocate to Blaine County.

The long-term planning priorities referenced above are complex problems. Solutions to these problems will involve balancing competing values and difficult political choices. Day-to-day P&Z business keeps county staff so busy that they have little or no time to focus on planning issues or to update zoning and subdivision ordinances. The Planning and Zoning commissioners, working on a virtual volunteer basis, face agendas overloaded with development applications. Each and every person involved in the process is conscientiously applying themselves to the tasks before them.

We have fine leadership on the Blaine County Commission. The commissioners individually are diligent and sincere in their efforts to shape a stronger healthier Blaine County. However, in working so hard our land use planning leaders have not worked smart.

By the county’s own calculation, there are five years of planning priorities that need action, and new ones are added each year. Please ask your county commissioners to set aside the clutter of day-to-day business, hire a staff long-range planner and to act on these issues.


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