Published: Mar 14, 2009 12:30 AM
Modified: Mar 14, 2009 06:40 AM
Jim Wise's "curious eye" toward Durham County's disappearing transparency (DN March 7) shouldn't be taken lightly. The backroom dealings could set a dangerous precedent for North Carolina, especially Triangle jurisdictions and Jordan Lake. Let me elaborate.
After several closed discussions regarding former Planning Director Frank Duke's administrative moving of critical watershed boundaries, based on developer Neal Hunter's 2005 Jordan Lake boundary survey (to permit the "751 Assemblage" mini-city), the county commissioners submitted this survey (and an October 2008 supplementary survey) to the state Division of Water Quality and directed staff to solicit proposals for an independent survey of Jordan Lake's boundary within Durham County.
On Nov. 24, a public hearing was held to obligate money for the independent survey, as recommended by the county manager, county attorney, county engineer and planning director. Since there was little public notice, and all previous discussions were behind closed doors, only two citizens spoke at this meeting. County Manager Mike Ruffin insisted "there are not enough reference points in those first two surveys to pass muster with DWQ," but the board voted 3-2 to postpone further action until receiving DWQ's decision.
DWQ's Julie Ventaloro was inundated with requests, including a unanimous resolution by Chatham County Board of County Commissioners, to reject the survey based on conflict of interest. Ventaloro informed our planning department that DWQ staff "are not trained surveyors, so any explanations, no matter how basic, will be very helpful."
On Feb. 4, DWQ approved Hunter's survey. The public was officially informed when the item was placed on the March 4 Joint City-County Planning Committee agenda. This delay is notable since an appeal must be filed within 60 days of DWQ's decision. Fortunately, blogs covered the story on Feb. 6. A subsequent online petition accumulated over 1,500 signatures within a week.
Though they had questions regarding how far the lake extends into New Hope Creek, DWQ staff members were instructed to follow procedure. To this day, neither DWQ nor Planning staff have visited the site.
At the county's March 5 work session, the Jordan Lake boundary was added to the agenda after the meeting began. This came as a surprise to some of the commissioners, but not to the developer's attorneys who were there and allowed to speak.
If the 751 Assemblage team succeeds, it will be the first time that North Carolina watershed maps are changed based on a private developer's partial survey. Citizens have every right to question this precedent-making event.
The 751 team is still demanding an administrative change in Jordan Lake boundaries, without the planning commission and government public hearings required in our ordinance.
Contact commissioners and demand transparency and due process by attending the 3:30 March 23 work session. Show them that, despite all attempts to dissuade us, we are watching!
(Guest columnist Melissa Rooney lives in Durham.)
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