Thursday, October 05, 2006


Washington County Residents Should Vote on Growth and Conservation Act

(Published by the Deseret News Oct 3, 2006)

Senator Bennett and Congressman Matheson are sponsors of a bill now wending its way through the Congress of the United States. It’s called the Washington County Growth and Conservation Act. Soon, all 535 members of Congress will have the opportunity to vote on the proposal.

I understand why Congressional action is required. Uncle Sam is a major landlord in southern Utah. But as a resident of Washington County, I’m disappointed that I didn’t hear about the proposal before it made its way to Washington, D.C.

At first I was disappointed in myself. But then I took a look at the process that produced the bill. Alan Gardner, a Washington County Commissioner, described it in a recent editorial:

“The original committee of 20 represented a broad spectrum of interest groups and stakeholders. The county was divided into geographic areas, and open public meetings were advertised and held to discuss each area in detail.”

I believe that Sen. Bennett and Rep. Matheson hoped to include as many residents as possible in the process. But how many do you think actually participated? Was it a few hundred or a few thousand? I don’t know, but I’m willing to bet it was a very small sampling of the 130,000 residents of the county.

I’ll accept my share of the blame, but let’s also be realistic. Experience has shown that public commissions and hearings bring out only the most vocal and active in the community. I’m sure the two protagonists—environmentalists and developers—were well represented. But people like me were not engaged, and never will be, in that kind of process. My fellow members of the silent majority only show up when it’s time to cast a vote that actually gets counted.

Is that lazy? Is it wrong? Maybe, but that’s the way it is.

Commissions and public hearings are inadequate for an issue of this magnitude. The quality of life of every resident of Washington County is at stake and the voice of every resident should be heard.

So, let’s put the proposal to a countywide vote.

We should also unwind the unwieldy conglomeration of proposals in the current bill. It’s a typical political ploy. Some of the proposals have no chance of passing unless they are attached to other proposals in the bill which are very popular. We should require that each component stand on its own merits.

For example, the two primary proposals might look something like this:

Proposition A. Add 219,725 acres of land to the National Wilderness Preservation System. No new public lands will be created. Every acre in question is already managed by the federal government. This designation does ensure the land in question will be maintained in its natural state and not be significantly altered. This is pretty much a vote for the status quo, but it can’t hurt.

Proposition B. Sell 25,000 acres of public land to developers. The specific land is unknown at this point, but rest assured it will be prime real estate. Most likely it will be in, on or very near the most scenic parts of the county. Why else would a developer buy it? The land will easily accommodate 80,000 new homes and 160,000 new residents who will more than double the current population of 130,000. A handful of developers will get very rich. Everyone else will be much poorer as spectacular and irreplaceable wilderness is converted into urban sprawl and strip malls.

You’ve probably figured out by now that I won’t be asked to write any ballot initiatives. But at least you know where I stand on the Growth and Conservation Act. Unfortunately, 535 members of Congress don’t have a clue where the other 129,999 residents of Washington County stand. And that doesn’t seem right to me. When the future of Washington County is at stake, votes in Washington County should be counted before votes in Washington, D.C. are cast.

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