Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Solution To Falls Lake Is Simple – “Follow The Money”

In a few days, some interesting opinions will be passed down regarding Falls Lake and it could cost Durham NC $1.5 billion. That’s right, nearly as much as BP just set aside in reserve to pay claims all along the Gulf Coast from the oil spill.Durham Map

It isn’t fair for Durham to be nailed with the cost of cleaning the lake up (see image to left-lake up and right.) Ostensibly the lake was created between 1978 into the early years of the ‘80’s by the US Army Corp of Engineers for flood control but that’s only a part of its function.

While primarily carved out of Durham County, the lake, thought by many to be too shallow, was actually a gift at US taxpayer expense to Raleigh NC and Wake County.

You see, that downstream county and its primary city, Raleigh, now the second largest in North Carolina wouldn’t have developed to anywhere near the extent they have without the gift of the lake from the Federal Government.

For Wake County and its 13 cities and towns, including Raleigh and the metro area it co-anchors with Cary NC, the lake has been a huge boon for economic development, resulting in huge amounts of local tax revenue that would not have otherwise been gleaned. Raleigh has grown 150% and Wake County 212% since its creation.

A tax base by the way that Wake County/Raleigh real estate brokers and agents have only been all to happy to use over the years as a selling point to undermine Durham as a choice for economic development and relocation.

While Durham County (and the City here by the same name that anchors the Durham metro area) is only 1/3rd the land area of Wake County and Raleigh, it has not only sacrificed a huge amount of developable land when the dam was built creating the lake but any possibility of significant use of that third of the county for economic development and growth.

So for one, I’m very pleased Durham officials are being very firm. Durham has already sacrificed so Wake and Raleigh could grow. The land there wouldn’t perk so without this water supply, both would have been significantly constricted. Now it is time for local governments there to pay the cost of that development and clean up the lake.

While apparently run-off upstream is a small part of the problem, to me this is simply “follow the money.” Both the lake and the solution benefits Wake and Raleigh and they with their infinitely larger tax base should now pay the piper. By the way, when I moved to Durham, this community was already in the process of setting higher standards for the lake than the downstream communities actually using its water.

And as a Corps spokesman wrote to me last weekend, (in that person's unscientific opinion and rationale for why no mention of Durham appears on the Corps' website for the lake) most people think its in Raleigh.

Don’t get me wrong, Durham isn’t entirely without benefit. The lake resulted in the preservation of scenic Durham countryside and byways here and a huge state recreations area (although it is often misidentified as being elsewhere because its office gets its mail in another county. What?).

And Durham has never been into “big” like Wake and Raleigh, having always put more value into steady growth and preservation of its diversity of population and housing and a unique sense of place.

But the lake wasn’t built to accommodate Durham which non-the-less has already paid a huge price in lost opportunity due to its construction. So the places like Wake County, Raleigh and its other dozen cities and towns that inherited the overwhelming share of the benefits should shoulder the cost using the very means they gained as a result of the lake’s creation as a water source.

It is time for primary beneficiaries to take responsibility for the costs as well as the benefit. As for those tempted at times like this to roll out the “R” word as in regional, to guilt Durham into rolling over…lets first discuss an equal, retroactive split of all appraised valuation due to creation of the lake because to be truly regional, both benefits and costs must be shared…

Other sources of interest:

Durham Herald-Sun Editorial

Bull City Rising Blog

NCDENR Background

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great observations, Reyn.

Ted Voorhees, Deputy City Manager