KINGMAN - Major changes in the language and concerns about public participation in the review of the Mohave County General Plan sparked a lively discussion between eight county residents and Supervisor Gary Watson Tuesday afternoon at the County Administration Building. Watson readily agreed to the meeting to discuss the proposed changes with the residents and took notes throughout the conversation.
"The proposed changes aren't following the current General Plan," said resident Rick Veradt. He pointed to a section on public involvement in the current plan, which states that the county shall use the current public hearing process to encourage the public to participate in the development and amendment of a new or an existing General Plan.
Watson said the county held four public meetings in Bullhead City, Lake Havasu City, Kingman and in the Arizona Strip area to gather public comments about changes to the plan. Residents would also have a chance to voice their concerns when the issue comes before the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. Residents also had the opportunity to give their suggestions through comment cards at the meetings and still have the opportunity through the county's website, he said.
"This needs to be talked about in an open public meeting, it's too late to do anything by the time it comes before Planning and Zoning," said resident Mark Shaver. "We're hoping to postpone this (the approval of the changes) until an open discussion can be had. An open discussion is not through postcards or e-mails."
Veradt and several other residents at the meeting argued that when the Board directed County Manager Ron Walker to create a Technical Advisory Committee to recommend changes to the General Plan, Walker didn't pick anyone from the general public.
Most of the people on the committee have backgrounds in real estate, or have connections to
developers, or are involved in business or are public engineers, so they have a vested interest in seeing the plan change, both Shaver and resident Denise Bensusan argued.
Watson explained that the county wanted people with some kind of expertise in real estate and development on the committee.
"What about input from the other side? This (the committee) is weighted too much to one side. We need the other side (the general public). Sure there are people that are no-growth, pro-growth or some growth, but why not create an ad-hoc committee like they did (when the General Plan was last reviewed) in 2005?" Veradt asked. The 2005 ad-hoc committee spent six months gathering information from the public before making changes to the plan, he said. Why not create another ad-hoc committee.
"We feel like we're being railroaded into this," Veradt said. "It's down to a handful of people making decisions on this."
Watson said he did not know why an ad-hoc committee was not created this time.
Resident Susan Bayer asked why the county wasn't waiting to review the plan until the U.S. Geological Survey study of the three major aquifers in the county was completed and the county had a better idea of the amount of water in the area?
The General Plan, itself, requires that the plan be reviewed every five years, Watson said. He said he planned to propose at the next Board of Supervisors meeting on Aug. 16 sending $20,000 to Arizona Department of Water Resources to finish the preliminary groundwater flow model part of the study.
Bayer suggested taking advantage of HB 2145. The Arizona Legislature recently passed the law which allows the county to postpone the review, amendment or adoption of a General Plan until July 1, 2015.
Watson said he was unaware of the new law but thought it was a good idea and would look into it.
Bayer also asked why the committee was suggesting cutting the section of the current General Plan that requires the county to create a water budget.
"We can't afford it and the county has no authority over water," Watson said. To create a water budget would cost the county about $2 million, he said.
Bayer challenged Watson on the question of water authority. She said that all of the supervisors, the county manager and each of the Planning and Zoning commissioners had received a memo from the County Civil Attorney Bob Taylor saying that the county had the right to consider the use of water by developers as a matter of public safety and welfare.
Watson agreed that the county had the right to protect the public's safety and welfare, but it did not have the authority to regulate water.
Resident Patty Lewis asked if the county couldn't move to create an active management area. Active management areas are governed by ADWR. Developers who want to build in such areas must prove a 100-year water supply for their development.
Watson said the public was free to petition ADWR to create an AMA within Mohave County.
Another area of particular concern of the residents was the change in language of Policy 3.5 of the General Plan, which currently states that the county will only approve power plants with dry-cooling technology when an aquifer is in depletion.
The committee has proposed changing Policy 3.5 to read, "When ADWR determines that the aquifer is being threatened by depletion or subsidence, Mohave County will not approve land use rezoning for projects that may cause aquifer depletion or land subsidence, unless the applicant offers effective mitigation measurers and provides adequate engineering documentation for implementation."
"The (Hualapai) aquifer is already showing signs of stress," Shaver said. "It is not an appropriate location for a solar plant (using wet-cooling technology)."
Watson asked if the group had another use for the land.
There are other ways to bring economic development into the county that don't use as much water or use better technology, Shaver contended.
Other language issues
The residents had problems with proposed language changes in other areas of the revised plan.
"The word "shall" has been changed at least 176 times in the new General Plan to the following words: should, however, unless," Veradt said.
Watson said that those sections of the plan were rewritten to reflect how much authority the county actually had to enforce those sections. "If we don't have the authority to enforce it, why say we 'shall' do something?" Watson asked.
"But it leaves it open for businesses and people to do what they want," Veradt said. "Were is the guarantee to protect the citizens?" Lewis asked. "None of the other General Plans in the state look like this."
"The changes leave everything up to the interpretation of the Board of Supervisors. There's no rules or laws," resident Wayne Smith said.
"The General Plan is a guide. It's not set in stone," Watson said.
Breaking the rules?
Resident Wayne Smith asked how the county could ignore the state's Growing Smarter Plan, which is required by state law and includes a water resource element.
Watson said he didn't have an answer to this question and would look into it.
Bayer asked if the changes to the plan were already made before the TAC met. She attended a meeting of the committee where the chair stated twice that the books in front of the members already contained the changes.
Watson said he didn't know anything about that and would look into it.
Shaver pointed out that the current plan requires the county to gather public input and create a citizen's committee before sending the changes to the plan through a TAC. The county seems to have bypassed both of those items, Shaver said.
Watson pointed out again that the county had held four public meetings in each of the major population centers of the county.
"We've got a real problem in this county. Doing the right thing is not easy. There's just too many doubts about this General Plan. Somebody needs to stand up about this," Bensusan said.
Watson asked how many public meetings the group wanted, whom did they want to speak with and whom did they want on the TAC.
"Who do you want to shoot at?" he asked.
Shaver suggested shelving the whole plan until a new public participation plan could be created. He suggested having one public meeting a month. Lewis and Bensusan suggested a public participation plan similar to the one used in the Long Mountain Area Plan. Participation in that plan was open to everyone who was interested, Bensusan said.
Watson said he would look at shelving the plan in order to bring in more public involvement.
A copy of the proposed changes to the General Plan can be found on the county's website, www.co.mohave.az.us. Select "Development Services" under the "Departments" tab and click on "Current Events."
Residents can e-mail their comments to email@example.com or mail them to Development Services at P.O. Box 7000, Kingman, AZ 86402.