MORGAN -- Ray Walker moved to Mountain Green from Huntsville for the amenities of a new subdivision.
After the move, he "almost lost" his wife, who has a respiratory condition. Doctors finally narrowed the cause to the nitrates in their drinking water. Walker says he has not been able to drink water out of his tap for four years.
"When we moved, we were not made aware of high nitrates in the water," Walker said. "I encourage (the council) to move on and get clean water back into the community that they desperately need."
The Morgan County Council agreed, saying the health, safety and welfare of residents is more important than an aesthetically pleasing neighbor.
"Our priority as a council is not viewsheds," Councilwoman Ronda Kippen said. "We have to be concerned with health, safety and welfare, not necessarily the appearance of a building. It is vital we focus on the health of our residents."
The council granted a conditional-use permit to developer Gardner Cottonwood Creek and the Cottonwood Mutual Water Company so they could construct a well house and other well facilities. Once the new well comes on board, an older well contaminated by high levels of nitrates can be taken out of use.
But some neighbors are worried that the well house at the intersection of Day Lily Drive and Iris Avenue will look "too industrial," with a metal door and cinder block walls.
The surrounding neighborhood is overseen by a homeowners association that enacted strict covenants, conditions and restrictions.
For example, Liz Polad had to pay $7,000 for a fence that complied with the covenants, while developers considered a chain-link fence around the well house.
"Their CC&Rs (covenants) are stronger than our ordinance," said Grant Crowell, planning and development services department director. Crowell said the county cannot enforce homeowners associations' covenants and that the well house as designed meets all county requirements.
Although water company officials said they are willing to work with their neighbors regarding the look of the well house, they said time is of the essence. The company secured low-interest state funding, which will expire in October after an extension.
In 2009, when the water company voluntarily issued a drinking-water warning, nitrate levels were reading at between 8.0 and 12.7 milligrams per liter. The state standard is 10 milligrams per liter.
A recently published water study of the area attributed the nitrate levels to septic tanks as well as animal feces and fertilizer use in the area that was once a dairy and agricultural ground.
"I would like to clean up the nitrates in the water and get back to pristine, and not get hung up on the color of the door," resident David Potter said. "We do need that water taken care of. That is our primary concern."