The Environmental Advisory Committee is planning on presenting a third option for the western boundary line of the Casper Aquifer in early 2020, according to an update presented at the EAC’s meeting Thursday.
Hoping to find middle ground between potential development and protecting the aquifer from contamination, the new boundary would look at redefining the Aquifer Protection Overlay Zone “with the expectation of producing a third boundary line, essentially, that’s a little more scientifically rigorous than the two lines currently in existence,” said EAC vice chair Brad Carr.
Currently there are two western aquifer boundary lines: one accepted by the city and one accepted by the county. Both outline an APOZ, which affects potential development in areas deemed vulnerable to the aquifer.
Discrepancies between the two existing western boundary lines along with new data and knowledge about the aquifer are driving the need to create a new boundary line; Carr said the new line would be more “of an apolitical, scientific line.”
More than half of Laramie’s drinking water, as well as 100% of some county residents’ well water, comes from the aquifer.
Carr said redefining the APOZ boundary line was first pushed by the EAC in 2017.
“The city was amenable, and we were tasked with proceeding,” he said. “The county really had no response.”
The project started about a year ago, Carr said, and progress is ongoing but slow. Carr has had to find time to work with the subcommittee around his own professional schedule while also dealing with turnover within the EAC.
“We are now at a point where we have digital files of a line,” he said. “We’re still refining that new line … there’s more information that has to be integrated, which has involved the subcommittee getting information from various professionals outside of the city and the county infrastructure — mostly consultants.”
Focusing on the boundary line as a whole and not just in sections, the group has even looked at old state mining records for well drilling information when it’s been available.
The new line would be “based on more of a geometric progression”of the Satanka Shale and other geologic formations that sit atop of the aquifer using current knowledge of formation depths and projected depths, Carr said.
“Especially as we get away from the city, the line discussions originally were not always based on best science,” he added.
The goal, he said, is to have the information collated in a GIS or other easy-to-read format for the EAC, city and county to consider by early 2020 before any potential major revisions to the Casper Aquifer Protection Plan take place.
According to both the county’s and city’s aquifer protection plans, any area with less than 75 feet of Satanka Shale covering the Casper Aquifer should be included in the APOZ.
The EAC is comprised of members appointed by both the Laramie City Council and the Albany County Commission, meeting on the first Thursday of even-numbered months.
Many of the members are professional geologists, environmental scientists or lecturers in environmental issues at the University of Wyoming.
Geologist Maura Hanning noted during her presentation the EAC could have a more vocal role in aquifer concerns overall, both within the city and the county since it’s a joint board.
She added the group could serve as a sort of “credible tie-breaker” among differing or conflicting scientific opinions or state-certified professionals.
“I’m hoping as you’re adding members and getting reenergized about what role you want to play in the community,” Hanning said, “whether you can see any role that you can take in trying to convey scientific information to government decision-makers.”
Recently, some residents in the Laramie Plains Subdivision have made similar — though more specific — effort to have Albany County review its APOZ boundary to possibly include a six-acre piece of property in the APOZ.
Under the county’s zoning rules, the county can change the APOZ boundary after undertaking “an independent investigation into the APOZ boundary” for a specific parcel if a “written request for review is submitted to the county together with a report prepared by a professional geologist or hydrologist, based upon and including verifiable scientific evidence, showing that a site-specific parcel of property situated west of the delineated APOZ western boundary of Zone 2 has less than seventy-five feet of Satanka Formation.”
Residents on the east side of Laramie brought such a written request to the Albany County commissioners in November for consideration of a six-acre parcel owned by Luke Sweckard, which is currently pending a re-zone to commercial property, to be included in the APOZ.
After the county’s planning and zoning commission rejected that request, Commissioner Pete Gosar suggested at the county board’s Nov. 19 meeting to send the proposal to the EAC.
Neither Commissioners Heber Richardson or Terri Jones supported that idea, but Richardson did suggest that Gosar, as the commission’s liaison to EAC, could prod the EAC into exploring “their bylaws and charter to determine what they’re created for and if it’s appropriate, so that we don’t ask them to do something that it’s not appropriate for them to do.”
One of the petitioners who requested the review, Richard Anderson-Sprecher, said he had also hoped the matter would be reviewed by the EAC.
The county’s rules for consideration of a boundary review request states that “a public hearing and notice shall be provided in accordance with the Administrative Procedures Act.”
Because of that, Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent urged the commissioners to schedule a public hearing on the issue “out of abundance of caution.”
However, they did not do so, and when Gosar made a motion to set a public hearing, Richardson and Jones voted against.
While reviewing the APOZ line for one specific property might be a process outlined in the county’s regulation, Richardson said he would only feel comfortable moving the boundary if a comprehensive review was done for the entirety of the APOZ.
The county’s Casper Aquifer Protection Plan, or CAPP, itself indicates that it should be updated periodically as new science becomes available. The document states it should be reviewed every two years, even if no changes are made. Since being adopted in 2011, the county’s CAPP has not been updated.
“I totally think we ought to review the CAPP, which would include (the Sweckard property), but it wouldn’t be exclusive to this space,” Richardson said.
With that goal in mind, County Planner David Gertsch has been tasked with preparing a brief outline for a county board meeting in January that would give some guidance to commissioners on how they would go about revisiting their CAPP — and how much it would cost.
Richardson said that, hopefully, there will still be some funding for aquifer protection left over from the county’s 2010 special purpose excise tax that could be used to pay for an evaluation of the current CAPP.
The request from residents to review the Sweckard property for inclusion into the APOZ is the first such petition made since the aquifer zone was established.
Gertsch is now suggesting that petition process be removed from the county’s zoning rules entirely.
This Wednesday, the county’s planning board is set to consider possible changes to the rules for development in the APOZ.
As part of those potential rules changes, the latest draft created by Gertsch would only allow a property’s landowner to request that a parcel be included in the APOZ.
“The current process is confusing,” Gertsch said in a memo to the planning board. “The current amendment process allows anyone to request a regulatory change on property not owned or with any legitimate legal interest. Any other amendments to the zoning of a property are typically requested by the property owner or by a person of entity with a legal interest in the property unless a more general update to zoning is being proposed by the government.”