Consistency and fairness were on trial Monday as the Vigo County commissioners grappled with a controversial rezoning request from a property owner who wants to drill for oil on his land near Hawthorn Park northeast of Terre Haute.
The verdict was split. While the three commissioners unanimously denied the request after a three-hour public hearing, they seemed to understand the ramifications of their decision and ordered the county attorney and Area Plan Commission to adopt clear standards on requirements for any future proposal.
The prospect of striking oil in Vigo County was once a pipe dream. But new technologies and aggressive research have turned the eastern part of the county into a hot spot for exploration and drilling.
While the business of oil drilling has forged ahead, related public policy concerns are bogging down. The commissioners, who found themselves cornered by the lack of rezoning standards for such cases, would like to make sure they have more reliable information next time.
Part of the commissioners’ frustration was apparently borne out of the Area Plan Commission’s recent inability to make a recommendation to deny or approve a rezoning request for a mining overlay to be used for an oil well on 94 acres. The zoning pertains to structures on the land such as pumps or storage tanks, not to drilling itself, which is subject to state and federal approval.
Having little direction to go on, the commissioners simply denied the request while acknowledging they don’t know who is right or wrong on various issues raised or refuted by opponents or proponents of the drilling. One assumes they could easily have ruled the other way. Such was the arbitrary nature of the decision.
Complicating matters is the fact that similar oil operations have been approved by the commissioners, although under different circumstances.
Opponents of the recent rezoning request cited health and odor concerns, and fears about reduced property values in the area of the Hawthorn Woods residential subdivision. Proponents disagreed with those concerns.
To avoid the appearance of such arbitrary action in the future, we urge the commissioners to follow-up quickly and aggressively on their efforts to develop clear standards. Doing so is the only way to ensure everyone affected by rezoning requests can be confident in fair and consistent treatment.