Thursday, August 21, 2008

Medium Can Be Beautiful Too - by Jim & Diane Hunter

When Ossie Bladine came out to interview us for his "Is farming dead in Clark County?" story, he kept trying to bring us back to the theme of solutions and alternatives. He mentioned plans for the Clark County Railroad, so we figured that base was covered. But the plans he reported on for a network of walking and riding trails wasn't exactly what we had in mind.

Basically, in the press we've seen two polar opposite ideas for the railroad. The conventional development community wants to build a heavy industrial park, right here in Brush Prairie. The "green" folk want trails, paths and greenways. A few folks have pointed out that the two visions are incompatible. When a train loaded with gravel spooks your horse on the bridle path, will the County be liable?

Our vision is somewhere in between. Jim articulated about a year ago in the following piece:


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 Jarndyce and Jarndyce.

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. Tulkinghorn'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 forthe 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 grand fathered, 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. [In 2008, send that to the Rural Lands Task Force or the Agricultural Preservation Advisory Committee]

Postscript, August 2008. It warms our heart to see that someone else shares at least a portion of our vision. A new development in Battle Ground, called "Battle Ground Village" borders the city's industrial area and offers buildings where folks can live and operate a business. They have graciously agreed to host the nascent Battle Ground Farmers Market, and guess what, they're gussied up right next to the Clark County Railroad.

Just one more idea for the hopper. Fifteen years ago when I worked on a small private timber farm, the local tree farmers were just discovering alder as an alternative crop. Those trees ought to be maturing any day know. Could the rail line haul that alder out from those private tree farms to a local furniture factory in Battle Ground Village or somewhere else along the line?

Diane & Jim Hunter
Hunter's Greens CSA
Brush Praire, WA.
(360) 256-3788

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