Monday, January 21, 2008

Tony Phyrillas: Demand property tax relief now

It's been nearly four years since Gov. Ed Rendell and the Pennsylvania Legislature promised state taxpayers would hit the jackpot once casino gambling was approved.

The governor dangled the prospect of property tax cuts in front of reluctant legislators to get the votes he needed to bring 51,000 slot machines to the Keystone State.

Was it worth it? You be the judge. Go to the governor's Web site
,
http://www.governor.state.pa.us/ and click on the button that says "Property Tax Relief" to review a spread sheet that predicts how much residents in each of the state's 501 school districts can expect in property tax cuts.

For me, it's somewhere between $120 and $302, depending on how much the casinos take in this year. Let's play it safe and stay with the minimum number.

Four years after Rendell promised "historic property tax relief," I get back $120 on my school taxes! I'm paying $500 more in school taxes today than four years ago. I'm already in the hole and I still don't have my check from Rendell.

There was a lot of talk last week in the state Legislature about property tax relief when lawmakers returned to Harrisburg after a 30-day holiday break. The Legislature adjourned after four days and politicians started cranking out press releases about the wonderful job they did on property taxes.

What exactly did the Legislature do? The House voted unanimously to amend the state constitution to allow lawmakers to revisit the property tax issue down the road. That's it.

You can thank House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese, D-Greene, for ending the tax relief debate before it began. Unable to get the votes he needed to push through some of the bogus tax relief bills the Democrats supported, DeWeese did what he always does — punt.

Before adjourning until Jan. 28, what monumental legislation was approved after those grueling 12 hours that the House was in session last week?

House members supported a constitutional amendment to permit elimination of homeowners' property taxes … somewhere down the road. The amendment would revise the state constitution to allow a 50 percent cut in property taxes for primary residences. Because of the uniformity clause in the state constitution, homeowners and businesses are treated equally so you can't cut property taxes for one and not the other.

The amendment would allow the Legislature to eliminate residential property taxes while keeping taxes in place for businesses and other commercial properties.

"It's a borderline joke is what it is," Rep. Will Gabig, R-Cumberland, told the Associated Press. "It will do nothing. It will not reduce property taxes by one dollar. It will not change the system at all."

Another bill that passed the House last week would provide tax breaks to low-income residents (something the Democrats wanted) while cutting the state's personal income tax by $1 billion (a move pushed by Republicans.) But none of this will happen unless the Senate and Gov. Rendell agree and that's not likely going to happen until Rendell unveils his 2008-09 budget in February.

DeWeese promised to take up property tax relief again on Jan. 28, but he's made many promises before.
House Bill 1275, which would eliminate school property taxes for all Pennsylvania homeowners, may or may not be on the agenda when the House returns. That's up to DeWeese ... or your local legislator if you make sure they get the message that their job is on the line.

In case you were planning to spend that future property tax cut, keep in mind that the constitutional amendment needs to pass the Senate and then must be brought back for another round of approvals by the next Legislature in the 2009-10 session. Then it goes to voters for a referendum the following year.

In other words, homeowners counting on a significant property tax reform, or better yet, the elimination of school property taxes, will have to wait another three or four years. (Keep in mind that Rendell kept shuffling the deck on us for the past four years for a measly $120.)

The political class that populates Harrisburg did what it always does, put on a show for the voters back home but avoid making any decision. It's the same song-and-dance professional politicians have been giving taxpayers for decades.

All 203 members of the House and half the members of the state Senate are up for re-election this year. The primary election is April 22.

You can wait by your mailbox for that property tax cut check to arrive or you can go to the polls on April 22 and vote out every politician who thinks $120 is property tax relief.

Tony Phyrillas

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. He received a first place award for Best Opinion Column in 2007 by Suburban Newspapers of America. He was also honored for column writing in 2006 by the Society of Professional Journalists.

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“Be steadfast in your anger, be sure in your convictions, be moved by the right and certainty that abuse of power must be defeated at every turn; uphold Liberty as the just reward of a watchful people, and let not those who have infringed upon that Liberty steal it away from you. Never loosen your grip on Liberty!" -- GettysBLOG

“Legislation without representation is tyranny.” -- GettysBLOG

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Straban Hearing on Super Walmart Postponed!

Developer plans OVER 500,000 SQUARE FEET OF RETAIL
To include a Wal-Mart Supercenter at Route 30 and Shealer Rd.


Ø “On a weekday daily basis, the ADT(Average Daily Trips) is estimated to be 20,688 trips.”
[1]

Ø The mega shopping center is so BIG it will require almost 2466 parking spaces;
[2]

Ø The site will contain 46.5 acres of parking lots and buildings;
[3]
The Zoning Hearing Board
“Special Exception” Hearing
Scheduled for Tuesday, January 15th


HAS BEEN POSTPONED

Call Straban Township to ask about the new date and time.
(717) 334-4833

Don’t let them sneak this by. Let your voice be heard.

“The scale of this development is way beyond what is healthy, responsible, and sustainable for our community – do we really want an ‘Eisenhower Drive 2’ here?"

[1] Transportation Research Group, Inc. Gettysburg Crossings: Traffic Impact Study. Conclusions and Recommendations.
[2] KPI Technology Gettysburg Crossings: Special Exception Exhibit. Development Area Matrix.
[3] Same as above. (71.56 acres X 65% = 46.51)
For More Information contact:
Straban Township Against Needless Development

STANDStraban@gmail.com

Posted for STAND by

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We support the Roadmap to Reform!

“Be steadfast in your anger, be sure in your convictions, be moved by the right and certainty that abuse of power must be defeated at every turn; uphold Liberty as the just reward of a watchful people, and let not those who have infringed upon that Liberty steal it away from you. Never loosen your grip on Liberty!" -- GettysBLOG

“Legislation without representation is tyranny.” -- GettysBLOG

Remember in May & November! Before you vote, GettysBLOG!

Copyright © 2005-2008: GettysBLOG; All Rights Reserved.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Downstream

We have posted three remarkable essays over the past week, three essays republished with permission, courtesy of the Bay Journal News Service. What the writers, John Wennersten and Liza Field wrote certainly is appropriate to Pennsylvania, and in particular to the south-central area comprised of Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Cumberland, Adams, York and Franklin Counties. The Bay Journal News Service and the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s Bay Journal are concerned with the current and future condition of the Chesapeake Bay.

Why is that relevant to the people of south-central Pennsylvania? One word: downstream.

There are two major rivers that feed the Chesapeake Bay with water: the Potomac, and the Susquehanna. What flows through the counties listed above flows into these two rivers, or one of the lesser subsidiaries like the Severn, the Patapsco, and the Patuxent. Other feeders on the DelMarVa Peninsula flow into the Chesapeake from the east: the Northeast, the Elk, the Chester, the Choptank, and Nanticoke, the Wicomico, and the Pocamoke.

As John Wennersten noted in his
Doing the Right Thing, “…on Maryland's rural Eastern Shore, …according to a recent study by the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, as much land may be developed during the next 25 years as has been in the past 400…”. And in Vanishing Acts, he writes, “The orchard belt of the Chesapeake region, which once included hundreds of peach and apple farms in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, is being swallowed. The land is worth far more than the fruit that it produces. In Adams County, Pa., the site of the Gettysburg National Battlefield, apple farmers acknowledge they are a vanishing species, and the range of agribusinesses associated with orchards and general agriculture is disappearing as well.”

The fruit industry in Adams County, which boasts 20,000 acres of orchard up on top of South Mountain, has been scaling back operations with increasing speed over the past few years. And the biggest agribusiness townships in the county, Cumberland, and Straban, have been approving plans for massive housing tracts for the past few years, and for commercial development as well, particularly along the US 15 corridor for several miles north and south of US 30.

That intersection has been targeted for massive development in itself, with the southwest quadrant already developed with car and motorcycle dealerships, hotels, restaurants, and movie theaters. It also houses a window factory and a large office building that houses the headquarters of a local bank.

The northeast quadrant, which was to have housed a casino [which was rejected], and a large shopping mall [plans for which were just rejected with the suggestion to resubmit], already has a hotel on site up and running.

The northwest quadrant will soon house a Walmart Supercenter, at the very least, and probably much more. This area will likely extend north from US 30 to Hunterstown Road, and will likely include land on both sides of Shealer Road.

By far, the worst area will be the southwest quadrant, which already houses a Sheetz, and two strip malls, but is adding a Target store on the last vestiges of Camp Letterman Army Hospital. In addition to commercial development extending south along US 15 a short way, S&A Homes will be removing the trees between there and Hanover Road in order to put in several hundred houses.

Drive through Frederick on US 15, or Carlisle along US 11, or York and Lancaster along US 30, or through Hanover along PA 94. That is what the Gettysburg area will look like in a few short years. Current plans call for enough housing to literally double the population of rural Adams County over five to ten years.

Now Gettysburg College has gotten into the act, having its students of public planning redo a proposed 500 house development near Biglerville in northern Adams County into a proposed 500 home development, complete with green space trails, and community and commercial space!

So the real question is, when is it enough? Where does one draw a line on development? In
Doing the Right Thing, Wennersten talks about the developer’s social responsibility. Is there a developer in Adams County that can honestly say he turned down a lucrative development plan because sprawl was getting out of hand? …because Adams was running out of green space? …because Adams should not become a bedroom community for people who can’t afford housing in Washington D.C.? …because there simply is not enough water available in Adams County?

In
Gift of Water, gift of life, Liza Field wrote about the creeks – about how esthetically wonderful they used to be. She also wrote: Drought, for all its desolation, does bring an offering: the awareness that money cannot buy water. Indeed, it reminds us that money comes from water. Not vice versa…This is news in the Eastern United States, where we've long taken water for granted, able to squander or impair it freely to benefit "the economy." I can't remember a single local land-use decision, in the past two decades, that placed water quality above "economic growth." Globally, meanwhile, the United States dallies in answering the call to reduce greenhouse gas emissions-though we know global warming is causing droughts-because climate protection would "hurt the U.S. economy."

We would add “water quantity” to Ms. Field’s “water quality”.

Water is a commodity that we all absolutely must pay very close attention to now. Water is not, as we think, infinite, it is finite. Water is, along with air, one of the most basic and necessary ingredients to all life on Earth. Without water, there can be no life. All things come alive with the presence of water.

With development, two things happen to water: first, the demand on the source is greatly and suddenly increased; and second, the outflow from that development, both wastewater and runoff carry an increased cargo of toxins and biohazards not only into our own ground supply, but also downstream. Who among you does not quest for the perfect Maryland Blue Crab Cake, or Maryland Blue Crab Soup? Who does not enjoy eating bushels of crabs every summer, and fresh Chesapeake Bay Oysters? Yet the outflow from development in southcentral Pennsylvania continually and increasingly [as development increases], poisons the very place where these unique delicacies come from – the oyster beds and crab shallows of the Chesapeake Bay.

Granted, the destruction of the shell fisheries in the Bay is not solely the responsibility of the developers upstream. Farmers and communities who use pesticides do a great deal of damage to the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. We saw what the rampant use of DDT did to the population of Bald Eagles in the area decades ago. They are only recently recovered from the endangered species list, upgraded recently to threatened status.

People create waste. Where is it going to go? Solid waste, for example, is trucked from New York City all the way to huge farms in western Lancaster County where the farmers no longer grow things, they plant solid waste, turning their fertile fields to land fills. That waste carries with it some moisture of its own, which trickles down through the earth into the water table, and from there into the streams and tributaries of the Susquehanna River, the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay. Yes, the earth filters the liquid. For a while, then like any filter, it becomes simply something the liquid passes completely through…like the old septic system drain fields, no longer functional in terms of cleansing the water.

Liquid waste enters the ecosystem via outflow, which is treated by municipalities, or by the earth in small home-systems. Liquid also enters the ecosystem via runoff. Herein lies the greatest danger. Toxins from many sources are carried directly into the ecosystem complete with their chemical cocktails picked up along the way, during a rain storm, or perhaps during the spring melt. Car washes, gas stations, trucking terminals, highways, all are places of chemical spills, and contamination. Those toxins then get washed away during a summer thunderstorm. Everyone loves the look and sparkle after a summer storm, how it cleanses the air, and the ground. But those toxins did not just disappear. They went somewhere. Into the ground, and over it, into the water supply, and into the streams. The runoff in one area goes to one small brook, which is one of ten that feed one creek, which is one of five that feeds one river, which is one of twenty that empty into the Chesapeake Bay. Do the math.

It is not something one can turn off. Once development occurs, this continues, The more development that occurs, the amount of toxins entering the system multiplies. Humans are users, consumers, and therefore, waste makers. From the dawn of man we have been squatting in streams to relieve ourselves of our own waste, and sending it downstream to whichever poor creatures might be attempting to live with the aid of that water source.

It cannot be turned off except in one way. Stop development. Measures such as townships demanding a certain percentage of every development be maintained as green space are defeatist. They are a series of diminishing returns away from no green space at all.

The populace must become actively involved in what happens to their area. In Pennsylvania, developers and their investors have become so politically powerful that the state now controls what the townships and municipalities can and cannot do in their own areas. And the townships and municipalities are so heavily controlled by those same developers and investors, that they willingly go along with any plan for development, and if it is not up to snuff with the local ordinances, well, reject it, and have the developer re-submit it.

State, county and local governments that are fully developer friendly have been elected to office by an unwitting public for over half a century. And now Adams County, for example, faces the construction of a propose 20,000 new homes over the next 5-10 years. Developments are currently approved or under construction for as many as 2,000 homes in a development.

In order to stop development, or at least curtail it drastically from its current rate, new, eco-friendly township, municipal, and statewide officials must be elected. The current rate of eco-destruction occurring in Adams County will result in a disaster of epic proportions unless it is halted soon. The disaster will be one of economic, and ecological and social scope, and will affect every citizen in the county, and those downstream from it.

The shortsighted elected officials who so easily approve mega-developments see increased tax revenues flowing in. What they ignore is the costs of doing municipal business increasing at twice the rate of revenues. Infrastructure, and municipal services costs will rise to exorbitant rates. What looks like a nice orderly plan on County maps will eventually lead to overcrowding. People will not be able to afford their taxes, and those taxes will not support the amount of services their local and state government are responsible for providing. Crime will skyrocket, as will bankruptcies, divorce, and the inevitable growth of the counter culture.

Lest you think this is over the top, note two news stories from tonight’s cable news: garbage riots in the city of Naples, Italy, where the city is drowning in its own garbage as it lies in the streets uncollected, and the processing of sewage water into clean drinking water for Orange County, California. Orange County’s water supply, the Colorado River, is in a drought condition. These are but two examples of what will be the outcome of the development of the Adams County area.

Citizens of the Mid-Atlantic area should be alarmed -- very alarmed at what is happening around them. If they care for their children they should be scared to death at the degree to which the area upstream is being developed, and its projected effect on those who live downstream in addition to the effect it will have on themselves.

Our civic leaders have abandoned us. Business is more important than history, and profit more important than the culture that supports it, and that will eventually die from it, finally, when there is no more profit to be had. The land, and the water are not a bottomless pot of gold. Our civic leaders have failed us. Where are the crusading newspaper editors? Where are the investigative reporters? The local Fourth Estate members have, in their absences, defaulted on their role as protector of the people. The newspapers in the Adams County area are too consumed with political motivations to have any thoughts for the welfare of the area, for the very culture they are supposedly such an integral part of, that they have long since abandoned any pretense at caring what happens around them, let alone downstream. Being good to business is the principle motivators for the news organs in the area. And being involved directly with the elected officials removes them from their societal roles. They are no longer the guardians of the culture, they are part and parcel of the problem, not the solution.

What we write here will not stop the Walmarts, the Targets, nor the 20,000 homes from being built. But it might just provide enough advanced warning for those who plan to stay to perhaps band together somehow and take matters in hand, wrest power from the monied interests and stop the trend.

We have made the point on numerous occasions in the past few years here, that two industries keep a kind of economic stasis here in Adams County. But now, the Fruit industry is withering on the vine, and the tourist industry is starting to stay away. Why? Because development is robbing the area of its natural resources, natural splendor, and its future.

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We support the Roadmap to Reform!

“Be steadfast in your anger, be sure in your convictions, be moved by the right and certainty that abuse of power must be defeated at every turn; uphold Liberty as the just reward of a watchful people, and let not those who have infringed upon that Liberty steal it away from you. Never loosen your grip on Liberty!" -- GettysBLOG

“Legislation without representation is tyranny.” -- GettysBLOG

Remember in May and November! Before you vote, GettysBLOG!

Copyright © 2005-2008: GettysBLOG; All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Doing the right thing? Developers, Social Responsibility and the Environment

Here is the final installment of our short series from the Bay Journal News Service. We will follow in a day or two with a summation.

Doing the Right Thing?
Developers, Social Responsibility and the Environment
By John R. Wennersten
11/27/2007

Do developers have a responsibility to protect the environment beyond their legal obligation? They may not, but it seems increasingly true that working with communities and protecting the environment are in developers' interests.

This idea will get a real test in the coming decades on Maryland's rural Eastern Shore. There, according to a recent study by the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, as much land may be developed during the next 25 years as has been in the past 400 and environmental and community groups are working to protect their region's heritage.

Rob Etgen, Executive Director of the land conservancy, says the role of social responsibility in determining economic growth is intertwined with the idea of saving green spaces - landscapes and seascapes that serve as residential and public amenities. When communities have a roadmap delineating which lands and resources should be preserved and protected, it becomes easier for developers to concentrate on projects in areas where they are "the most appropriate," Etgen believes.

Ideas like "sustainable communities," "new urbanism" and "energy and transit-friendly planning" are becoming tools of the developer's trade. Companies that pursue them get a break from the environmental activists and hedge their actions against what might be a tougher regulatory atmosphere in the future.

Elm Street Developers, a Mclean, Virginia-based realty firm, routinely pursues green technologies in building smart growth communities on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Elm Street has been widely recognized for its willingness to invest in environmental protection to reap a more dependable long-term profit. Developers at Elm Street believe that green amenities, coupled with walkable towns with coherent centers, are what modern homebuyers want. Research conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency seems to confirm this. It indicates that only 25 percent of today's renters and buyers want large-lot houses in sprawling developments.

Architect John Torti of Torti Gallas Partners of Silver Spring, Maryland, has long been in the vanguard of what has come to be called "the New Urbanism." As a young architect, Torti grew disenchanted with designing unimaginative subdivisions. In the 1980s he began to design communities that would offer "green" housing mixed with park-like settings - a practical blend of community and environment. Torti and like-minded architects and planners were determined "to clean up the mess in the suburbs that we had helped create."

He and other green architects and developers have been able to infuse their work in projects like the King Farm Community in Rockville, Maryland or Town Center in Germantown, Maryland. Torti's success has enabled his firm to win contracts for developments in more than 47 American cities.

Real estate studies have also confirmed the demand for such developments by looking at how their prices have held up. Between 1997 and 2005, notes Lee Sobel of the EPA's Office of Policy, Economics and Innovation, there were 4,744 resales in the Kentlands and Lakelands developments, two early new urbanist communities in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Kentlands' houses commanded a 16.1 percent price premium over other houses in the area. Lakelands' achieved a 6.5 percent price premium. "Kentlands has sustained its premium year after year, and Lakelands has seen its premium grow - reaching 9.5 percent between 2002 and 2005," Sobel said.

Building infrastructure such as roads and stormwater systems for sprawling big lot developments is also increasingly expensive for developers. Developers know that ignoring trends is not smart, says Sobel, "especially those trends that affect the bottom line."

As developers increasingly look to places such as the Eastern Shore of Maryland for land on which to build new communities, they will be confronted by heightened environmental consciousness and community concern. Many environmental groups as well as established communities with a strong rural heritage do not want to see their region "sprawled and suburbanized." Towns such as Chestertown on the Eastern Shore struggle to protect themselves against sprawl, and are using litigation and political pressure to force developers to recast their vision.

"While builders, environmentalists, and planning commissioners will never see eye to eye on everything, these groups have much in common," notes Smart Growth expert, Edward T. McMahon. Developers who accept social responsibility in their decision making have everything to gain if they recognize this and work for the community's interest to create walkable, energy saving places that protect the environment.

John R. Wennersten is the author of numerous books on the Chesapeake Bay and regional environments in the Mid-Atlantic. His most recent work is Chesapeake Bay: An Environmental Biography.

Distributed by Bay Journal News Service

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We support the Roadmap to Reform!

“Be steadfast in your anger, be sure in your convictions, be moved by the right and certainty that abuse of power must be defeated at every turn; uphold Liberty as the just reward of a watchful people, and let not those who have infringed upon that Liberty steal it away from you. Never loosen your grip on Liberty!" -- GettysBLOG

“Legislation without representation is tyranny.” -- GettysBLOG

Remember in November! Before you vote, GettysBLOG!

Copyright © 2005-2008, GettysBLOG; All Rights Reserved.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Gift of Water, gift of life

We continue in a short series of posts courtesy of the Bay Journal News Service.

Gift of water, gift of life
By Liza Field
12/24/2007
The world river has no water in it.
Come back, springs!
Where water is, there bread arrives.
But not the reverse.
Water never comes from loaves.
--Rumi
When I was seven, I wanted a creek for Christmas. I could picture it cracking through our old, dry neighborhood, splashing noisily between boulders and rhododendrons, ushering up sweet airs of minerals, roots and the creeks we camped beside in the national forest.

Water attracted me more than dolls or games, perhaps because it was alive-enchanted and changing. Cool cow-pasture ponds in July. Jewels of winter hoarfrost popping out of brittle mud. Blizzards. Rainpuddles. Sycamore-vapored rivers. Clouds. The clinging fog in our old Virginia mountains. Cold mineral springs pouring inexplicably out of dry ground.

Water was a visible sign of the invisible world-like elves and angels. So my brother's report that Santa Claus couldn't haul in a creek felt more stunning than his addendum that Santa wasn't real-that gifts were bought by people at the department store.

"-Which doesn't sell creeks," Tombo added.

The news felt desolate and appalling that December. But in the childhood years following, whenever I came upon a woodland creek, a river, a rainstorm, I knew I'd found something valuable-more real than Santa Claus, more rare than money.

The drought of 2007 evoked that old childhood understanding, as Eastern water-historically plentiful-grew scarce. When Atlanta nearly drained the dregs of its reservoir, even the wealthiest suburbanites, who'd formerly bought whole creeks to run through lawn sprinklers, faced the same water restrictions as the poorest. Nobody's money could make it rain.

"You don't miss the water 'til the well runs dry," countless old-timers remarked to me, as our own Virginia creeks turned to dry cobble, and wells did run dry.

That bygone expression has grown unfamiliar here, where few residents still depend on wells. Our water comes from spigots. Our spigots work because we pay the water bill. Water is not a priceless gift, therefore, but a commodity earned.

Drought, for all its desolation, does bring an offering: the awareness that money cannot buy water. Indeed, it reminds us that money comes from water. Not vice versa.

This is news in the Eastern United States, where we've long taken water for granted, able to squander or impair it freely to benefit "the economy." I can't remember a single local land-use decision, in the past two decades, that placed water quality above "economic growth." Globally, meanwhile, the United States dallies in answering the call to reduce greenhouse gas emissions-though we know global warming is causing droughts-because climate protection would "hurt the U.S. economy."

"Your money or your life?" is the universal question that has pervaded philosophy and religion throughout the ages.

Ancient cultures considered water the symbol of life. Native American, Hindu, Arabic, Asian, Hebrew, Celtic and African wisdom traditions thus considered water a sacred gift, more vital than any kind of wealth.

But humankind has a track record of forgetting its wisdom in times of plenty. Money seems to provide life (we call our income our "livelihood"), and thus takes first priority.

The Hebrew prophet Jeremiah, who considered drought a reflection of human values, saw "the fruitful land" become "a desert," because his people "forsook the fountain of living waters" and ran after idols.

The mythical Greek King Midas ran after gold. When granted his wish for a "golden touch," the parched king found that amidst his own gilded drought of a landscape, he could not obtain one drink of water. His priorities turned even his beloved daughter-for whom he'd wanted all these riches-into a chunk of dead gold.

That "the Midas touch" connotes a business compliment, today, says something humorous about our own values. The problem with making wealth our highest priority is that we, too, try to turn everything into money-including life.

And so drought comes. With its age-old, humbling effect, it returns us to the ground. But such a lowering can raise our values, the sage Lao Tzu implied.

"The excellence of water appears in its benefiting all things, and its occupying the lowest place."

When we regain gratefulness for water, the "low" will take high priority. We'll stop asphalting the landscape, work hard to plug run-off back into the water-table, and reforest our region to attract and receive rain.

Meanwhile, winter precipitation has revived a joyful creek in my present-day backyard, a creek which the drought had nearly extinguished. I don't know about the power of Santa and the mall, but receiving the impossible-a creek for Christmas-implies something hopeful and unsettling to me. What humankind wants most, on earth, is possibly what we'll get

Liza Field is a hiker and conservationist. She teaches English and philosophy in the Virginia Governor's School and Wytheville community College.

Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.

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We support the Roadmap to Reform!

“Be steadfast in your anger, be sure in your convictions, be moved by the right and certainty that abuse of power must be defeated at every turn; uphold Liberty as the just reward of a watchful people, and let not those who have infringed upon that Liberty steal it away from you. Never loosen your grip on Liberty!" -- GettysBLOG

Legislation without representation is tyranny.” -- GettysBLOG

Remember in November! Before you vote, GettysBLOG!


Copyright © 2005-2008,
GettysBLOG; All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Vanishing Acts: The mid-Atlantic's disappearing landscapes

We reproduce this column here from its original source, the Bay Journal News Service:

Vanishing Acts: The mid-Atlantic's disappearing landscapes

By John R. Wennersten
12/31/2007

Sprawl continues at an unprecedented rate in the mid-Atlantic. Despite efforts at "Smart Growth," almost everyone has seen negative changes to his or her local environment.

Growth occurs principally along transportation corridors. Real estate development and urban sprawl have a silent ally in the federal highway system. Interstates, like I-81 that traverses the mid-Atlantic, have channeled exurban development. New developments along the route often have larger populations than the town or village with which they share a zip code. And "countryside" increasingly is being replaced by "mallside," with homogenized stores from coast to coast.

As suburbs spread outward in all directions from cities, farmland is increasingly in demand for development. In Virginia and West Virginia, sheep and cattle farms have given way to burgeoning neighborhoods of commuters who clog country roads and drive hours each way to their workplace. In Maryland, the State Highway Administration recently removed more than 250 miles from its scenic roads program, thanks to sprawl.

The orchard belt of the Chesapeake region, which once included hundreds of peach and apple farms in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, is being swallowed. The land is worth far more than the fruit that it produces. In Adams County, Pa., the site of the Gettysburg National Battlefield, apple farmers acknowledge they are a vanishing species, and the range of agribusinesses associated with orchards and general agriculture is disappearing as well. Ironically, the citizens of Gettysburg, until recently, thought themselves too far away from urban centers to be affected by sprawl.

But it is no longer only our countryside that is being transformed out of existence. According to the U.S. Geologic Survey, our rivers and seascapes are being changed forever. As sprawl destroys forests and fields, the connectivity of wetlands, forest and wildlife habitat and waterways is being ruined. Small wonder that suburbanites are surprised when hungry black bears forage in their garbage and deer eat their flowers.

People with roots deep in Chesapeake soils are displaced as well. The once sleepy docks lined with oyster packing houses in Crisfield, Md., give way to fancy, expensive, high-rise condominiums owned by people who apparently neither care about nor understand the local maritime culture and what is being lost.

You know that a way of life is vanishing when the memorabilia collectors arrive. Throughout the Chesapeake, collectors are avidly scooping up the remnants of Maryland's oyster industry: packing cans, dredges, photographs, shucking tools and packing house invoice books. What was once a vibrant industry has succumbed to disease, pollution and development. Hundreds of packing houses from Kent Island to Oyster, Virginia have disappeared. Only a few remain to process oysters trucked from Louisiana. Oysters, which sold for $1.50 a gallon in 1974, now sell for almost that much apiece in Washington, DC restaurants. Soon people will have difficulty understanding why a village was named Bivalve.

Economic change adds to the transformation. Tobacco reigned for four centuries as southern Maryland's cash crop. Since the state bought out Maryland's tobacco farmers, their numbers have diminished from 1,000 to about 150. With tobacco fast fading from the Chesapeake landscape, the old tobacco curing barns become relics.

There is more truth to the cliché, "You can't stop progress," than we care to admit. The population of the United States that demographer and social analyst Leon Bouvier argued was "sustainable at 175 million people" has nearly doubled that amount. In the midst of the Shenandoah Valley or up the Susquehanna River, one can get into traffic jams that resemble the worst urban gridlock.

What is the main force that threatens our lifestyle? It is political power, the force of domination. When a Chesapeake waterman finds his crabs or oysters overwhelmed by pollution, he feels the rough hand of lobbyists who have worked behind the scenes to keep stronger regulations at bay. When orchard owners discover that their aquifer is being hijacked by new zoning regulations and developments, meaning that they can't irrigate their trees during summer drought, they feel the blunt instrument of real estate interests that want to grow houses rather than crops. When the state forces tobacco farmers out of business, we see political decisions turning people into museum pieces. Thus, our treatment of our lands and waters raises serious questions about political power and its social uses.

Not everything that is disappearing is just quaint or archaic. Not everything that is disappearing should be thoughtlessly dismissed. In the process of changing our landscape and seascape, we risk losing the essence of what defines us as a culture. As social critic James Conaway wrote in his recent book, Vanishing America, "We have to protest against our seeming national willingness to wreck nature and neighborhoods."

John R. Wennersten is the author of numerous books on the Chesapeake Bay and regional environments in the Mid-Atlantic. His most recent work is Chesapeake Bay: An Environmental Biography.

This column is distributed by
Bay Journal News Service.

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