Monday, September 26, 2011

The Kent Island Dilemma

Save the Bay or Stop Development - Proposed sewer line stirs cost, growth concerns
Four out of five homes here are pumping water-fouling nitrogen into the bay every time they flush, Queen Anne's County health officials estimate. Some even leak raw sewage into their yards or drainage ditches during wet weather.

Now county officials see a potential solution: linking more of the island to a sewage treatment plan. But that plan threatens to create another problem — increased development — and the issue is dividing island residents.

"It's crazy," says David Olds, the Queen Anne's County commissioner who represents Kent Island. "You're damned if you do, damned if you don't."

County officials voted last month to seek state funding to connect 1,500 homes on southern Kent Island to the county's wastewater treatment plant, which was upgraded years ago to take out the nitrogen contributing to the bay's "dead zone."

Extending a sewer line nearly eight miles down the island to reach them all could cost upwards of $70 million — up to $40,000 per existing household if they had to pay for it. That's far more than many residents are willing or able to spend, which is why county officials say they need help with the project.

But many residents also fear that a sewer line could open the island up to more intense development. As many as 1,600 vacant lots there have never been built on because they were deemed unsuitable for septic systems.

The issue is a divisive one, with sewer proponents deriding opponents as "no-growthers" and opponents suggesting profit rather than public health motivates sewer supporters.
Actually, I'm kind of shocked the Sun is willing to put the issue into such sharp contrast.  If you do what's right for the Bay, and build an adequate municipal sewer system, you open the possibility that people on your island could sell their own private land at higher prices, and more people could move in and enjoy your comfortable island lifestyle.  Wouldn't want that.  Now, if you can just find some other excuse to ban development.

We faced a similar dilemma on a smaller scale.  After the development in our neighborhood was nearly complete, the three lots behind our house were left undeveloped.  The lot immediately behind our house "perked", and had a building permit.  The two lots on either side of that lot did not "perk" and were unlikely to be developed soon.  We solved our privacy problem by buying all three lots from the developer.  The lot that perked was much more expensive than the two that didn't.

Kent Island resident could also choose this solution.  They could buy out the undeveloped land on their island at market prices to preserve the character of their island, if they valued it that much.  My bet is that they don't.

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