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One Size Doesn't Fit All In South County 

Tuesday, March 10, voters in Deschutes County must sort through the emotions, the opinions and the science that comprise the many faces of Ordinance 2008-012, the "Local Rule." The emotions are the easiest to understand, as the residents of South County are impacted by the financial burden of up-grading their existing septic systems, while the opinions expressed in the many letters to the editor, phone calls and conversations have muddied our understanding of the issues with the minutiae concerning the science. Not many of us possess the analytical skills to truly evaluate the accuracy of the science that went into the modeling in the original USGS study, any more than we have the potential to offer helpful alternatives to the otherwise expensive treatment of the nitrates that are at the core of the problem. We have to trust the informed reports of others who have participated in the entire process, and herein lay the rub.

Rarely does the public process take on the appearance of a steamroller, considering a politician's usual instincts for survival, but the rise of this issue surprised me in the speed and persistence with which it was furthered by the Commissioners. However, if I am to believe the opinions expressed over the county's desire to collect "Pollution Reduction Credits," or their pursuit of federal grant monies, then I can better grasp their motivations. This, I don't think, should outweigh the public's desire for openness, thoroughness and honesty. If these issues (this need for PRCs or the other mentioned Federal Grant monies) were clarified when and during the public process, maybe the residents of South County would have felt more respected and the issues more considered.

While my district, the Deschutes River Recreation Homesites development, has greatly benefited from a timely offer from Sunriver Environmental LLC to cooperate in the development of a Sanitation District, I can still appreciate the sense of disenfranchisement that others from South County feel, left to shoulder the costs of an unproven, expensive, nitrate treatment system. But if the science is true, and the proposed nitrate reducing septic systems are effective, then as good "stewards of the land" we should all accept the solutions as presented by the Commissioners. And fortuitously, the very act of my district having an opportunity to deal with our impact in one fell swoop can greatly reduce the importance of the impacts from other developments in the region. Unique, though, is the impact that each sub-region of South County has on their surrounding environment, and this may be a principle reason arguments erupt over the one-size-fits-all solution. My district has a very hard, impenetrable layer of ash 9 feet below the surface over which the spring thaws push flows of water, and this understandably may impact the river habitat more in the adjoining river, while impacting our wells less, as they average closer to 60' in depth. Nonetheless, our concerns are different, as our treatment should differ.

Then is fish habitat the question? (I can picture the Oregon Department of Fisheries and Wildlife sliding down in their seats as they read this!) Most all the parties are probably wishing to avoid this fray, though, and they are looking for the forward motion.

If it were only my district I concern myself with, then I would like to take responsibility for how I affect the "land" or in this case, the aquifer, and for my district to join with Sunriver in the development of a new Sanitation District is "the cats' meow". But let's consider that the Commissioners actually have their collective eye on the ball, knowing that many of us have prospered from the area's growth, (though recently less so), and in order to continue to make our livings from growth, we have to direct it and absorb it through inorganic efforts.

Where I begin to wander in the Public Process is why or how it ever came down to involving the entirety of Deschutes County voting on a South County issue. Am I to understand by this that the Commissioners have it in mind that the whole county will be helping to pay for the solutions? Why else would they be afforded the opportunity to vote on our issue? My support of the "Local Rule" was previously confined to a belief that if the vote were to fail, residents in my district may lose the impetus to support joining in a Sanitation District, which I believe is a "permanent solution to a permanent problem." However, if the whole of the county is going to help pay for this fiasco, then, whoop-de-do! Otherwise, I want to vote on the Sisters School issue!

David B. Ogden

The author is a resident of the south county area impacted by the proposed septic system upgrade (Local Rule) currently before Deschutes County voters. He also serves as a commissioner in Special Road District #1.

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