What price is the Town of Bayfield willing to pay to save a life? That's a horrifying question, but one that cannot be ignored.
It is time for the town to take off its blinders and to seriously address the concerns of the irrigation ditch companies. It is time to adopt a town policy of requiring real estate developers to pipe the large ditches that run through their development area.
We all respect free enterprise and the contributions that responsible growth brings to our community. But it is nothing less than irresponsible to ignore the concerns raised by the ditch companies when new development is proposed along the ditches. After all, without the conveyance of irrigation water, this area would be a high, semi-desert environment. Covering the larger irrigation ditches will conserve this precious resource, prevent drowning and injuries, protect the water quality, and create an opportunity for an area-wide pathway system.
Every year, across America, there are hundreds of deaths from drownings in natural water bodies unrelated to boating accidents. In fact, the Center for Disease Control estimates that an average of 10 such deaths occur every day.
Accidental drownings are the fifth highest cause of accidental deaths and young children are at particular risk. The number of non-fatal injuries is much higher; these injuries can include physical injuries and brain damage, https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/water-safety/waterinjuries-factsheet.html.
Local ranches know to watch their cattle to avoid drownings. But in the Bayfield area, the risk to children is ignored and those who raise these public safety issues are mocked.
On Tuesday, June 13, the Town Planning Commission gave a "thumbs up" for another residential development, this time for over 140 homes (80-plus multiple-family homes, such as townhomes, condominiums or apartments, and 60-plus single-family homes) for the vacant land surrounding the existing homes east of Clover Drive.
Several residents and neighbors spoke at the commission hearing. The speakers raised heartfelt concerns about the high density of the proposal (much higher than the existing subdivision); the affordability (the public was informed that not only was there no risk of low-income housing, but that the homes would be too expensive for "teachers and policemen"); the lack of parks (the developer indicated there was no need for a park, as the children could play at the nearby elementary school and in the subdivision's detention basin); the impact on water and sewer facilities (the developer indicated that the town has plenty of capacity); and the negative effects on the Schroder Irrigation Ditch, which forms the eastern boundary of the property (the developers stated that they cannot afford to pipe the ditch but agreed to consider building a fence along their boundary).
The Planning Commission listened politely to the concerns ...and then promptly ignored every one of them, approving the sketch plan for the project with only those conditions identified by the town manager before the hearing.
The Planning Commission then invited the interested public to attend the future hearings and to continue to express their concerns about the project.
Of course, one had to wonder why they would bother.
In private conversations after the hearing, the developers shrugged off the concerns about putting 140-plus homes along the Schroder Ditch. They chuckled at the safety concerns, saying that they had grown up playing in the ditches and that these were parenting, and not public safety, concerns. Point taken. Of course, our local parents need to educate their children on the risk of death from playing in the ditches which are, in any case, private property and not public playgrounds.
Good parenting, however, cannot alleviate the town's obligation to deal with this issue.
In mere minutes, a child could be carried away by the force of the water. And, as every parent has told their children, "you can drown in a few inches of water."
Fences? Great, but a fence is a joke to a child when there is an adventure on the other side. Signage? Great, but "No Trespassing" signs are invisible to a child who is intent on splashing around in water on a hot day.
If the town required all developers to pipe the ditches, however, the public safety risk could be transformed into a connecting pathway through the area. A lovely, community-wide walking trail can be established, offering a pleasant alternative to walking along the edge of the roads.
There is no sense in sugar-coating this issue. Piping the ditches will be expensive - but so are safe roads and water supply lines for fire hydrants.
The town should apply all public-safety conditions in an even-handed manner, no doubt. Is it possible that this obligation will discourage thinly-capitalized projects, thereby reducing property tax revenue? Sorry to say, yes.
Maybe that is exactly the price of saving a life.
Marian and Alan Tone