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Report could have influence on county plan

March 19, 2002|BY DAVE McMILLION

Fractured underground rock in Jefferson County can enable contaminants to enter well water and "something must be done in the relatively near future" to protect the quality of drinking water, according to a report that makes recommendations for what should be included in a new county comprehensive plan.

Some of the pollution can be traced to chemicals used in farming, but leaks from residential septic tanks may pose more of a threat, said a report prepared by Richard Tustian of Tustian and Associates.

Tustian's report was developed to help the Jefferson County Planning Commission put together a new comprehensive plan, a document that generally describes how a county should grow. Specifics of the plan are put into use through zoning regulations.

Tustian's report has been used as the basis for a lawsuit against the proposed 100-home Spruce Hill subdivision along Huyett Road south of Charles Town.

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"Since the waste water from residential and industrial uses is potentially even more dangerous than that from farming operations ... this problem has a direct bearing on what kind of urban or suburban development pattern should be recommended for the long-range future," Tustian's report said.

To minimize further contamination of well-water supplies, the report by Tustian and Associates recommends that houses in some sections of the county be built on a minimum lot size of at least 10 acres if the homes are to use wells and septic tanks, the suit said.

Spruce Hill homes would be built on lots of about 1 acre.

Three property owners who filed the suit allege "irreparable harm" would occur to county residents if Spruce Hill is approved.

County residents will get a chance to comment on Tustian's report during a public hearing tonight at the Jefferson County Courthouse. The public hearing, which begins at 7:30 p.m., is the second to be held on the report.

About 70 people attended a public hearing March 5 at the courthouse, and Chief Planner Steve Bockmiller said tonight's turnout might be larger.

Tonight's hearing was expected to be the last, but Bockmiller said that because of the extent of public interest, it might be necessary to hold a third public hearing.

Developers have not commented much on Tustian's report, said Bockmiller. Most of the comments have been from property owners, some of whom have expressed concerns about how their properties could be affected by revisions to the zoning laws that might be suggested in a new comprehensive plan, said Bockmiller.

Tustian said in the report that the county faces a possible "looming threat" from any type of urban development that is not engineered to keep waste water out of soil.

"Even sewer lines can become a threat if they are not embedded in a special underlying material to prevent their cracking and leaking due to sinkholes or other ground subsidence," Tustian's report said.

The report also says:

-- Road congestion can be relieved by more connector roads to create alternative routes, and a "transportation master plan" should be developed showing the new roads that will be needed in the county.

-- Farming, a core part of Jefferson County's makeup, will become increasingly difficult if "scattered subdivision development" is allowed to continue in the county. Agricultural areas should be zoned for large tract development or protective easements should be set up to protect farmland. An effort is under way to protect Eastern Panhandle farmland through protective easements.

-- County historical sites should be placed on an inventory and a procedure should be developed to make recommendations on the design of new developments that affect the sites.

-- Many county residents appear to be complaining about "short brownouts" in electrical power, which could be an obstacle in attracting employers whose businesses are heavily reliant on fast Internet connections.

It will be up to the planning commission to decide the content of the comprehensive plan and how much of the report to incorporate.

At this point, Tustian said he has been instructed by the county not to publicly comment on his report.

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