Monday, May 21, 2007

Farm Policy 101: Epilogue STOP THE PRESSES! HOLD EVERYTHING! NEW PLAN! - Jim Hunter

Here's a new installment in Jim Hunter's Farm Preservation series. I don't know about you, but Jim's vision of a sustainable Clark County literally brings tears to my eyes. Let's all share Jim's little dream and then share our dreams with the county commissioners...

First a procedural note: Glenn Grossman and I and a few other dedicated watch dog types attended the first of the Comprehensive Plan Open Houses the other night, and it was not what I expected. I expected a forum where we might air our views, but no, it really was as it was billed, avery informal open house with several county planners available to answer questions.

It was informative and interesting, and after recovering from the huge social awkwardness head ache it gave me, it inspired the following piece. So... I wouldn't discourage anyone from going, but you may want to save your energy for the public hearings.



I have a confession to make. Six months ago I turned into a NIMBY. It wasn't the asphalt plant proposed for half a mile away that made me a NIMBY, it was the news that in revising our County's Comprehensive Plan, our government officials had given up on agriculture as a resource in our county, and that they planned to convert 4700 acres of land they had previously protected as a critical resource to residential and industrial use.

Now let me say right up front, that I don't think NIMBY is a fair term. If someone calls you a NIMBY, your first response should be, "OK, how about your back yard." Unless your accusers says yes to their backyard, don't let them cow you.

Now right about the time I was becoming a NIMBY, County Commissioner Steve Stuart was dreaming a dream. It was a dream of a sustainable Clark County, and he presented it in his "State of the County" address. In preparing for my NIMBY-ish appointment with Stuart to express my concerns about agriculture resource land, I read the speech. At first, my NIMBY rage blinded me to the possibilities.

When Stuart spoke of a "sustainable street of dreams," and a "sustainable technology research park," I imagined a street of multimillion dollar energy efficient "McMansions" and a sprawling single story industrial park in the middle of the thousand acres of dairy land about a half mile from our little farm, and I said, "NOT IN MY BACKYARD."

And so for the last six months I have been downloading reports and maps, talking to county officials and trying to stir my friends and associates to action. After watching Bleak House on OPB for the second time, my wife Diane turned to me and said, Jim, the Comprehensive Plan is your Jaundice and Jaundice.

Well I had all the passion and pallor of Richard Carsten when I marched into the County's Open House on the plan last Wednesday, and instead of a court room where I could plead my case, all I found was a roomful of county planners, working late to answer my questions about the plan. It soon became clear that they weren't the folks that could judge my case, they were just lowly clerks. One might have been the ambitious Mr.Guppy, another Mr. Talkinghorn's world weary Clem, or the earnest Mr.Snagsby.

I told them my concerns, trying not to brow beat the messengers, and went home with my usual post-meeting headache. But, behold, in the night my NIMBY fever broke and scales fell from my eyes, and I awoke, no longer a NIMBY, but transformed to a WIWIMBY.

Now what in the "dickens" (pun intended) is a WIWIMBY? "WIWIMBY" stands for "What I Want In My Backyard." You see, that evening I learned something. The Comprehensive Plan is an opportunity for folks to dream. I also learned that folks that don't live in my backyard, do my dreaming for me. Some agencies out there came up with a whopper of a dream for the Dairy in my backyard. You see a railroad runs through it. And a regional agency thinks we need more industrial land. And an entrepreneur from far away dreams of making money on that railroad. And the county owns the railway and leased it to the entrepreneur, and they said they'd help him make it pay. And so the County is rezoning our neighborhood dairy agricultural resource land to industrial.

Well I quizzed our county planners about this dream, and it really is just a dream. Besides the asphalt plant there are no tenants for this industrial park. There are no plans yet developed for how to manage the conflict between rail traffic and automobile traffic. It is all "conceptual" (read "a dream"), and it may never happen. The dairy will be grandfathered, but it won't be able to expand, and when the dairyman is ready to retire, it will be reserved for industry.

Well the scales fell, when I realized if all these other folks are dreaming about my back yard, why can't I. And in fact, when I went back to look at Commissioner Stuart's speech, he asked us to tell him our sustainable dreams.

And so Mr. Stuart, here is my dream for my backyard. I dream that that dairy will stay right where it is. I know folks say that the dairy industry is dying in Clark County, and much of it has. The farmers who left said it's a whole lot easier to meet environmental regs east of the Mountains where it's dry and that's where I get my hay from anyway.

But this dairy has been refined in that firestorm. Those wide flat acres that look so good for an industrial park are the perfect place fora dairy waste lagoon and good drainable class I soil to absorb the excess liquid waste. Those acres also grow a whole lot of feed that doesn't have to be shipped over the mountains. And at least some of those dairies that shipped their herds out to Idaho are now growing feed for the one dairy and raising its heifers. That's one pretty substantial reality to push out of the way for a dream. So let's keep that dairy. Maybe some of that stinky gas we complain about could be captured and scrubbed and sold to the neighborhood as bio gas. Maybe we could start a little cheese factory.

And what about that railroad. Well maybe it's a sustainable alternative to all that traffic congestion we'll generate when we put McMansions on the rest of those 4700 acres of agricultural resource land. What if we hop skipped over that farmland. And what if we used that railway we own as the trunk for extending planned sustainable development into the less productive lands in the east of the county. Small densely populated developments could be sited along the line. Villages like Brush Prairie, Old Town Battle Ground, Heisson and Yacolt could be revitalized. And rather than one big industrial park, what about zoning small areas in these villages to employ people right there, adding value to the agricultural and forest products these areas produce. Each could also have small commercial areas for a grocer, a baker, a local foods restaurant and a local hardware. Those that couldn't find work in the village could ride a commuter line into the city. Or how about we use the rail line to bring goods and services to the villages. The Vancouver Food Coop or a Countywide farmers market could ride the rails, spending a day in each village, a book rail car could hold a lot more books than a bookmobile, a mobile health clinic could serve the growing population of aging boomers who could live in condo villages along the line.

These villages could be tightly built, sharing walls for energy efficiency, but they would be spread out in natural settings, where many more could share the vistas that the McMansions now compete with farmers to purchase, and the small but dense development would leave room for community gardens to serve the villages and "fields of dreams" where new young farmers could grow the County's budding local food sector.

This rail line into rural Clark County could also carry our crowded urbanites out for a day in the country, passing within walking distance of such attractions as Bi Zi Farms, The Cedars Golf Course, Old Town Battle Ground, Battle Ground Lake, The Historic Allworth Mill, Historic Heisson, Pomeroy Farm, Lucia Falls Park, Moulton Falls Park, Historic Yacolt and Historic Amboy.

Well it's just a dream, but it's a sustainable dream, and that's what the good commissioner asked for. So that's this humble farmers dream for our backyard, what's yours? Write it down and send it to the Clark County Board of County Commissioners, subject line: input on the Comprehensive Plan Update.

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