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Let's be honest: Pipe plan for well owners in Hernando County isn't necessary

Some of my neighbors will probably hate me for this. Maybe even my wife. And, somewhere down the line, my Realtor.

But here's what I think about the county Utilities Department's plan to spend $15 million to run water lines to 202 houses — including mine — that have wells contaminated with arsenic.

It's an alarmist response to a manageable public health threat. It has the feel of a local government trying to get a federal handout while the getting's good.

And it represents a huge bonus, roughly $75,000 per house, to people who, by and large, don't need it. The Spring Lake census tract has the fourth-highest average household income of the 25 tracts in the county.

Some residents with contaminated wells — though I don't know whether it's a majority — have said that the state has to do more.

Because we didn't know our water was tainted when we moved out here, this isn't quite the same as the people who buy on a lime rock road and then ask the county to pave it.

But it's close. See, this is the deal we made when we claimed our chunk of pasture or orange grove: We get away from urban crime and traffic and crowding; we also get away from urban services.

We make this deal not only because we prefer the freedom and the scenery, but because that's the only way such far flung-development can be affordable.

Why would hooking up 202 houses to water lines cost, at least, $15 million in county, state and federal money? Because it requires laying 60 miles of pipe.

Of course, once this pipe is in the ground, the county may be tempted to find more paying customers to tap into it. And I can imagine folks like developer Bob Sierra, a Spring Lake resident who once advocated covering a large swath of his home territory with subdivisions, would love to oblige.

All these would be minor considerations if this were a true health crisis. But I don't think it is. Most of the wells now classified as contaminated would not have been under the previous federal drinking water standard that was lowered two years ago.

And the state hasn't exactly left these folks hanging. It provides $800 sink-mounted filters or bottled water (we get it delivered to our house every couple of weeks) to homeowners with low levels of contamination. Highly contaminated wells have been fitted with filters that purify every drop of water in the house, including showers and, for that matter, toilets. These cost about $4,000 each.

Because I'd heard about problems with these filters, I called Renee Holcomb, the Batten Road resident who sounded the alarm about arsenic in January 2007 and whose well had one of the county's highest levels of contamination — more than 100 parts per billion. The filter, she said, has brought the level down to zero.

Still, she said, she'd like county water because of the potential for other pollutants. Also, she pointed out, the arsenic contamination may be more widespread than we realize. We haven't tested enough homes, she said, and arsenic levels in the same well can inexplicably climb or fall.

It's a worry, all right. We may need more filters and testing to protect our health and property values.

But even if the federal government would foot most of the bill, we shouldn't claim it's a $15 million worry.

Let's be honest: Pipe plan for well owners in Hernando County isn't necessary 04/27/09 [Last modified: Monday, April 27, 2009 8:40pm]
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