Lower Elkhorn public hearing attracts desired strong attendance
Questions were asked. Conversations took place. Opinions were expressed.
It was exactly what representatives of the Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources District wanted to have happen.
In experimenting with an new, informal format for a public hearing Thursday, NRD staff and board members weren’t quite sure what to expect in terms of a turnout. But having more than 60 people already show up in the first half hour of the planned two-hour event was a good sign.
It was an indication that the format was appealing and, more importantly, the topic of the hearing was important, said Brian Bruckner, the NRD’s assistant general manager.
“We weren’t really sure what to expect,” he said in regard to the turnout. “But I’m pleased with this.”
The hearing also served as an open house for those visiting the NRD’s new headquarters at 1508 Square Turn Boulevard. A large open room provided ample space for the informational tables and displays set up for those attending, and then was later transformed into a meeting room for the NRD board’s meeting later Thursday evening.
The focus of the public hearing was the ongoing problems with nitrate concentrations in groundwater in Pierce County and northern Madison County. After considerable study, the NRD is proposing an expanded geographic area where different levels of best management practices would be put into place, as well as having landowners in some existing areas be moved up to a more intensive level of management practices.
Bruckner said most everyone he visits with impacted by the management area acknowledges that nitrates at levels above safety levels is a serious problem. But there also are concerns about the cost of the management practices, the additional paperwork requirements that might be involved and whether these proposals are just the first step of more to come.
But Bruckner said he hopes that most farmers affected in the two counties have worked with the Lower Elkhorn NRD in the past and recognize that it’s the district’s mandated responsibility to manage groundwater quality. Plus, the NRD has shown itself to be cooperative to work with, he said.
The written and verbal comments received at Thursday’s hearing will be compiled and reviewed by NRD staff members before — at the earliest — bring the proposed management practices to a vote in August before the Lower Elkhorn board of directors.