Friday, February 10, 2012

Keep the hills safe and scenic

The results of the latest mapping effort have created a mélange of additional anomalies.


National news articles over the past few years serve as a poignant reminder of the many reasons why development should not be allowed on hillsides and mountains: expensive homes come tumbling down the hillsides; fires decimate neighborhoods; erosion and degradation are byproducts of hillside scarring and unnecessary land-clearing for speculative development. It didn't matter how wealthy the homeowners were or how well-built their homes were, down they came or down they burned!

If it isn't house slides, it's mudslides; if it isn't wild fires, it's inaccessibility for emergency vehicles; if it isn't pollution from septic systems, it's erosion runoff into streams and rivers. If it isn't Southern California or Lake Tahoe, it's Anywhere, USA. For any number of health and safety reasons, humans and wildlife have better and longer lives if building is prohibited on hillsides and mountains. Preserving hillsides in their natural state of grace protects us all.

In addition to the health and safety reasons for not building on hillsides and mountains, there are also aesthetic and economic values to the entire community. The one compliment that our community always receives from visitors and from prospective second-home buyers is how beautiful our scenic corridor and canyon hillsides are. The next comment is, "How have you managed to keep your valley from looking like the hills of Vail, Park City, Oakland, etc.?" Protection of the hillsides in the Wood River Valley has been a community goal, a boost to our main tourist economic sector and an enhancement to the property values of everyone in Blaine County.

Several years ago, a well-intended effort to replace the text description of the hillsides with a GIS mapping representation unfortunately resulted in the very problems that the Board of County Commissioners is currently trying to correct: Some properties that properly belonged in the Hillside Ordinance (officially called the Mountain Overlay District) were inadvertently removed from it and some properties that obviously should not have been in the MOD were inadvertently swept into it. This unanticipated and undesired outcome showed the substantial limitations of GIS mapping for correctly delineating the MOD.

In an effort to correct the faults of the previous GIS mapping, another GIS mapping effort was undertaken to rectify the unanticipated problems created by the first GIS mapping. However, in order to achieve specific corrections, certain assumptions were changed in the digital mapping process and by the Board of Commissioners. The results of the latest mapping effort have created a mélange of additional anomalies that call the latest revised GIS maps into further question. The county will hold a public hearing on proposed changes to the MOD at the Old County Courthouse in Hailey on Tuesday, Feb. 14, at 1:30 p.m.

The 14th is also Valentine's Day, so bring your heart on your sleeve and your thoughtful soul to the courthouse and let the commissioners know that you want to maintain the integrity of the MOD and preserve our hillsides for posterity and prosperity. Thank you for caring about your community.

Blaine County resident Len Harlig is a former county commissioner.

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