It seems as if Douglas County Commissioner Jim Flory’s comment at Wednesday’s meeting was right on target.
After listening to a debate that lasted more than five hours and receiving more than 400 pages of documents related to a sand-pit dredging application that included conflicting engineering studies, the former federal prosecutor asserted:
“I argued cases before judges for 27 years, and I never had a judge sit through complex arguments like this and rule from the bench.”
Judiciously, the County Commission decided not to make an immediate decision but determined instead to hire an independent consultant to help it evaluate the proposal.
Hiring consultants can sometimes be a way for elected officials to sidestep or pass off some of their decision-making responsibility, but, in this case, it seems appropriate. The commission was presented conflicting expert information about the threat, or lack of a threat, to Eudora’s water supply from a proposed sand-pit mining operation on 434 acres south of the Kansas River near Eudora. The application for a conditional use permit for the mining operation had been approved on a 4-3 vote by the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission.
Area residents and the city of Eudora have opposed the permit. They fear the mining will enable the introduction of pollutants into the city’s water supply and argue that the city’s water treatment plant is designed to treat well water, not water containing agricultural and urban pollutants.
Those seeking the dredging permit respond that the numerous conditions put on the operation provide adequate safeguards and that sand dredging on the Kansas River itself has not endangered the underlying aquifer that supplies the city’s wells. They also contend the proposed location of the mining operation is far enough from the city’s supply that there’s no chance it will contaminate the city’s supply field.
Faced with conflicting information bolstered by authorities on both sides of the argument, the commission has made the practical and sound decision to seek a disinterested authority to help it decide the complex matter. Too much is potentially at stake to have done otherwise.