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Dade City Commission must drop support for new wells

When out-of-towners proposed a garbage landfill in rural east Pasco, the Dade City Commission opposed it, thundering that the state needed "to protect our drinking water supply."

But a commission majority's worries about safe drinking water disappeared when it came to people drilling irrigation wells inside city limits. Then the sentiment turned to personal property rights trumping environmental concerns from the city's own utilities staff. In other words, personal property rights are a prime motivator when the person owning the property can vote for you.

It's just a sample of the convoluted logic from Commissioners Camille Hernandez, Steve Van Gorden and Eunice Penix, who voted last week to lift the city's nearly three-decade-old ban on private water wells.

This is an ill-conceived idea, pushed through without studying long-term financial implications for the municipal government and ignoring the prior warnings from staff who cautioned the city's own wells could be at risk if contaminants leaked from an improperly maintained private well. No matter, the measure gained a support of the majority even though it wasn't on the Oct. 13 commission agenda.

Here is the result of this seat-of-the-pants governing:

• Hernandez voted on the motion without disclosing her property on Bougainvillea Avenue already had a well, the legality of which had been questioned by the past city manager. After the well came to light, Hernandez declined to answer questions and her husband, David, banned a Times reporter from the family property.

It is an absurd overreaction from people who apparently believe they are beyond reproach. An elected public official should expect the scrutiny and, more to the point, should welcome an attempt to demonstrate the motion was not in bad faith. A reporter, after all, is asking the same questions the commissioner's constituents and city officials want answered: Is the private well legitimately protected because it predated the 1982 ordinance? Are commissioner Hernandez and her husband simply ignorant of the city codes or just so arrogant they believe they don't have to follow the rules?

• Van Gorden and Hernandez cited economic reasons, saying private wells would give people relief from their city water bills.

This isn't about helping people with their utility costs. Had that been an actual consideration, the commission would have asked for a re-evaluation of its rate structure to see if everyone, not just the affluent, could benefit without a $3,000 investment to dig a personal well. It also gives short shrift to inverted rate structures intended to encourage water conservation.

• Van Gorden later suggested the ban be lifted only for properties of at least an acre, again an indication he's looking out for only the few.

Property records show 133 residential lots in the city measure at least one acre. Of those, 39 are vacant, leaving 48 manufactured homes — mostly along the city's eastern edge of Lynan Farms and McIntosh drives and Raida Way — and 46 site-built houses around the city as the beneficiaries of Van Gordon's idea.

The assignees, coincidentally, would include commissioner Hernandez, one of only two homesteaded lots on Bougainvillea Avenue big enough to meet Van Gordon's minimum lot size, and Van Gordon's most recent electoral opponent, Robert Avila, on Robinson Avenue. Avila is the unsuccessful commission candidate backed by Hernandez's husband in 2008.

• Most startling of all, lifting the ban could put the city at risk of defaulting on the bonds floated to upgrade the city utility system. The bond covenants state the city will not allow "competing systems for utilities" and that all structures must hook up to the city's water system. The city's last audit showed a $4.8 million bond debt as of September 2008.

That is an exorbitant risk to assume just to benefit 94 home­owners. Tuesday, a Dade City Commission majority needs to put prudent fiscal management as its top consideration and sink its endorsement of digging new private wells.

Dade City Commission must drop support for new wells 10/24/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 24, 2009 12:07pm]
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