Press Release | October 29, 2009

Durham Mistake Means Protest Petition Stands

The Durham City-County Planning Department miscounted the amount of affected land owned by signatories to a protest petition and improperly invalidated a protest petition filed on October 5 ahead of the vote by the Durham Board of County Commissioners, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center and Haw River Assembly. On October 12, the county commissioners’ 3-2 vote to move the critical area boundary fell short of the 4-1 vote required by the valid protest petition so Jordan Lake watershed boundaries could not be amended.
The Southern Environmental Law Center brought the error to the attention of the department on Tuesday, October 27.
“We urge Durham County to admit its error, give full weight to the collective voice of affected landowners in a valid petition, and acknowledge that the proposed boundary move did not receive enough votes to pass during the October 12 vote of the county commissioners,” said Kay Bond, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.
The petition was signed by 24 property owners who would be affected by the county’s request to move the critical area boundary. Using the planning department’s own methods and numbers, they represented 20.9 percent of the owners eligible to sign a protest petition. A valid petition must have signatures representing at least 20 percent.
A review of the numbers and methods used by the Durham City-County Planning Department revealed that a large portion of an affected parcel of land owned by a signatory to the petition was overlooked in the department’s count. In a cursory glance, the large parcel might appear to be two separate parcels divided by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers property. The planning department only counted one fraction of the parcel as belonging to the signatory. A closer analysis of GIS data from Durham County and corresponding county records clearly show that it is one parcel of land and should have been counted in total as affected land owned by a signatory of the protest petition. A second, smaller parcel of land owned by another signatory of the protest petition was also missed in its entirety.
“The petition is rooted in public support for protecting drinking water supplies as a fundamental community resource for all instead of a convenience dependent on special interest,” said Elaine Chiosso, Haw Riverkeeper, Haw River Assembly. “How we treat Jordan Lake now determines whether we and our children will shoulder more bills to clean up resulting pollution or enjoy clean water and a healthy lake.”
Represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Haw River Assembly objected to the proposed move because it would reduce protections for the most polluted part of Jordan Lake and allow development within an area designated as critical for water quality of the lake.
Jordan Lake is a manmade reservoir located south of Chapel Hill and Durham and west of Raleigh that supplies drinking water for Triangle area communities. Because of its vital function, the lake is protected by a critical area boundary, a one-mile buffer around the lake where development is restricted to low density and any developers must implement additional run-off management measures.

Note to editors: A map showing the parcels of land mistakenly excluded by the Durham City-County Planning Department is available at URL for press reports based on this release if appropriate citation is given. A high resolution version is available by contacting ksullivan@selcnc.org

About Haw River Assembly The Haw River Assembly has been working since 1982 to protect the Haw River and Jordan Lake. Its members are advocates for clean water in the eight counties that make up this watershed, including Durham. HRA has been a leader in working for better protection of our public waters at the local, state and federal levels, and has some of the state’s oldest and largest volunteer stream monitoring, education, and river clean-up programs. HRA is a member of the international Waterkeeper Alliance. WEB: www.hawriver.org/