Dane County has 61 distinctly unique cities, villages, and towns. Through their businesses, schools, cultural attractions and natural resources, each one maintains an individual identity — something that draws distinction between them and their neighbors.

While it’s true each of our vibrant communities is different, they are all part of a close-knit county and region that both succeed and face challenges as one.

Because our county has grown so much in recent decades, it’s imperative our communities carefully evaluate how public policy decisions they make today will affect their neighbors tomorrow.

Such is the case with a significant new development being proposed on the edge of the city of Fitchburg, shadowing the shores of Lake Waubesa.

Fitchburg city leaders are proceeding with the steps necessary to authorize hundreds of acres of new development and a new municipal well on lands near Highway MM. This area is adjacent to the Nine Springs E-way and part of a sensitive watershed responsible for maintaining the quality of the waters of Lake Waubesa and its surrounding wetlands.

But an important question remains unanswered: How will this project impact Fitchburg’s neighbors, including Lake Waubesa property owners and others in our area who enjoy using the lake for fishing, boating and other outdoor recreation?

The developer of this proposal believes that although much of his project is on sloped, higher terrain, he has engineered solutions ready to handle runoff from significant rainfall events. Given what we’re hearing about climate change and forecasts of higher frequencies of flooding rains, these solutions would certainly be tested.

Of even greater concern, however, is the potential impact that a high-capacity well associated with this project would have on groundwater and drinking water. Professor emeritus Phil Lewis has expressed concern that this well could result in the complete diversion of one spring feeding Lake Waubesa.

A recent geological survey suggests the aquifer that this high-capacity well would be sunk into is connected to Lake Waubesa’s waters. That raises public health concerns if the well draws up water with pollutants from runoff events.

These impacts are harder to quantify and, to his credit, the developer himself admits this is an area where guarantees are impossible to offer.

Impacting the water we drink and lakes we enjoy are high stakes — these questions need clarity before this project proceeds.

Others are asking questions about how such a development would be served by police, fire and snow removal services. Those are cost-benefit decisions and eventual investments that Fitchburg would have to make.

There have been many spirited debates in the county in recent years about the best ways for us to grow while at the same time preserving the quality of life that makes Dane County the fastest growing county in Wisconsin. It is critically important we strike that balance — and no, not all development is bad.

That said, if communities like Fitchburg have lands already able to be developed that don’t bring a series of questions about impacts on their neighbors like the town of Dunn or village of McFarland or natural resources as important as our lakes, shouldn’t that conversation come first?

Joe Parisi is the Dane County executive and Patrick Miles is a county supervisor from McFarland.