On Thursday, March 30, the second public meeting of the Groundwater Protection Ordinance subcommittee began with a proposition to postpone meetings for several months.
The group is a special limited term subcommittee of the Portage County Groundwater Citizen Advisory Committee. The committee is charged with analyzing an ordinance brought to the county by citizens of New Hope.
The ordinance aims to address perceived issues of groundwater quality. In particular, it addresses health concerns associated with high nitrate levels in Portage County drinking water.
The movement to postpone meetings was due to the announcement that a second draft of the proposed ordinance had been created and presented to the subcommittee the day prior to the meeting.
Additionally, there has been high levels of confusion between the proposed ordinance and Groundwater Citizen Advisory Committee’s groundwater management plan, which is updated every few years as new data regarding the plan is obtained.
Jen McNelly, a member of the subcommittee, explained that the confusion was such that citizens, who took issue with portions of the proposed ordinance, were expressing opposition to the groundwater management plan, and thus were hindering the progress of a separate matter.
The movement to postpone subcommittee meetings was met with equal understanding and disagreement.
Residents of New Hope who helped to create and revise the ordinance said putting the meetings off until Groundwater Citizen Advisory Committee’s groundwater management plan was agreed upon would hurt the ordinance’s momentum.
Those in favor of the postponement said that it would allow for the topics to be discussed separately.
The controversy behind the ordinance itself lies in concern for farmers that may be affected by an ordinance.
Deb Jakubek, a subcommittee member from Amherst Junction, was concerned that this attempt to address a clean drinking water issue might actually be encouraging what could be a significant source of the issue.
“If you don’t want bigger farms, we need to do all we can to keep the little farms going. This is not doing it,” she said during the meeting while considering the financial burdens notoriously held by small and mid-sized farms. Burdens which could be pushed beyond their limit with the proposed ordinance.
Ultimately it was decided to postpone subcommittee meetings until Groundwater Citizen Advisory Committee’s groundwater management plan underwent a public hearing, but no later than June 1. The exact date and time has not yet been determined.