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SG-W:/ WEMU Transcript-14 June 2000



You may have heard Doug Cowherd's interview Wednesday morning on WEMU
explaining many of the details of the new proposal, currently before
Washtenaw County Commissioners, to buy and preserve some of the best
natural areas in the County.  I taped that interview which, by the way,
really cleared up quite a few questions I had that haven't been covered
in the papers.  Doug did such a great job explaining the proposal that I
decided to transcribe it - the text is posted it below.  Thanks Doug!

    -- Scott Ty.

 - - =    Scott A. Tyrrell     Computer Systems Specialist    = - -
- - =    University of Michigan News & Information Services    = - -
 - - =    734.647.4417     www-personal.umich.edu/~scottty    = - -
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   Transcript
   Issues of the Environment on WEMU 89.1 FM 
   Wednesday 14 June 2000

# # # beginning of interview  ###

Dave Fair:  You are listening to WEMU 89.1 FM.  I'm David Fair, it is
now 20 minutes after 8:00 and it is time to introduce the co-host of
Issues of the Environment, Donna Southwell.

Donna Southwell:  Good Morning Dave.  Joining us this morning is Doug
Cowherd.  Doug is chair of the Sierra Club Huron Valley Group and we're
going to talk about something that, frankly, I wondered if we were ever
going to be able to talk about again.  It is a proposed ballot issue on
County natural areas preservation and Doug is going to give us the
information.  Good morning Doug.

Doug Cowherd:  Good morning Donna, good morning Dave.

Dave:  If I recall, it was 1998 that we did something similar, put it on
a ballot and it was defeated rather handily.  Now, what difference is
there between Proposal 1 of two years ago and what you are proposing to
put on the ballot this time around?

Doug:  In 1998 we had a relatively complicated, more expensive and brand
new idea to do something about sprawl in our area.  Now citizens are a
lot more educated about sprawl.  Certainly, if they read the newspaper,
they know that their schools are overcrowded - they know that more that
two years ago.  They know their roads are more clogged than two years
ago and they've seen more building than we had here two years ago.  So I
think we have a more educated populace.  And, we have a much simpler
proposition.   Instead of a four-part ballot proposition, we are simply
talking about buying the best natural areas that remain our county.

Dave:  And at what cost to me, John Q. Taxpayer?

Doug: Well, at less cost than we proposed in 1998 too.  So it is
simpler, cheaper and people are better educated.  This cost will be 0.25
mills - one of the smaller mills that a taxpayer would pay.  That works
out to about $19 for the average homeowner in the county who would own a
$150,000 home.

Dave:  I know that two years ago we were calling it 'open spaces' and
now, if I heard correctly, this is 'natural areas.' Why the change in
terminology?

Doug:  'Natural areas' and 'open spaces' are rough synonyms.  The
previous proposal dealt more with farmland and areas that were important
habitat for animals and important stream and riparian areas.  This is
strictly going to be about the most valuable areas for animals, plants
and protecting our watershed.  So natural areas fits that better.  And,
to be frank, we're trying to form a coalition, with the people who
opposed us in 1998 - the homebuilders and the realtors.

Dave:  And how is that going?  I understand that they are on board at
least partially.

Doug:  They say they've reached conceptual acceptance of this
proposal.   The boards of the realtors and the boards of the
homebuilders met a couple weeks ago and they voted in favor of
conceptual agreement.  Were really talking now about what we will call
it.  The term 'natural areas' is more acceptable to them, so it's the
term I'm using.  And we're talking about how much to fund it.  We
haven't reached agreement on the 0.25 mills - which is the level that
we've proposed to the Board of Commissioners of the County.

Dave:  In the two years since Proposal 1 failed, have we seen
significant impact to the community as a result?  In terms of sprawl,
has it just gone out of control?

Doug:  I think no one would question that building has continued at a
rapid pace.  At a pace that is unparalleled in many decades.  I think no
one is proposing that it be stopped or even cut in half by any action
that citizens would take or by government action.  So our proposal
really isn't about stopping growth.  It's about trying to do something
in the face of it, in particular, if we are going to have growth at a
rate that we can't completely predict at this point.

There are several thousand acres of very fragile lands along creeks and
rivers.  Several thousand acres of old-growth forest that are rare and
unusual and provide habitat for rare and endangered species.  The simple
question is: do we want to take those acres off the table for
development?   And then we'll see what happens to the rest.  This
proposal would take a reasonable fraction of that set of very rare and
unusual acreage off the table for development and preserve it as
parkland that we could all enjoy forever.

Donna:  What would set the criteria for land that would be considered
for purchase under this proposal?

Doug:  Well, if you walked around this county and you found the
prettiest, oldest forest with the biggest trees - that would be
something that would score very highly on the technical criteria that
we've proposed for this ordinance.  If you found wetlands that had a lot
of wildlife around it - deer, redwing blackbirds, a lot of frog species
- that's the kind of land that would qualify.  If you found creeks and
streams - tributaries to the Huron River - that, if there was building
on it, would dump fertilizer and oil and things like that into the Huron
River and cost us a lot of money to clean it up so we could drink it -
that's the kind of land that would qualify.  Those places are rare and
special.  Much less than one percent of the open space in this county
falls under these categories.  And we can only buy what people are
willing to sell - it's an open market proposal.   So that's the kind of
land that would qualify. But exactly which acres?  No one can say for
sure because we don't know who is going to be willing to sell in the
next 10 to 15 years.

Dave:  Who would actually be in charge of making the decision to
purchase the properties?

Doug:  We think that decision should be largely driven by science.  
Science that says what the best place is for animals. Science that says
what the best place is to protect our water, what the most valuable
habitat is.  We've proposed a set of technical criteria - a scoring
sheet.   This sheet will be divided into a hundred points and we'll give
points to these places like I've been describing - these very unusual
places.  And we've proposed a technical committee made up of people who
are specialists in the science that relates to these things - botanists,
landscape architects and water quality specialists.  Also real estate
experts who can advise on whether something is well priced.  These
people will use the technical scoring criteria and make recommendations
to the County - to the citizens who have been appointed to the Parks
Commission at the County level and they'll decide.

Donna:  So the Parks Commission is actually going to be the people who
will be in charge of purchasing the land - running the program - as I
understand.  Would that be correct?

Doug:  That's exactly right.  But, of course, the County can only make
offers to willing sellers.  So the Parks Commission can decide what they
want to try to buy, and the sellers will decide who they'll sell to.  
They may sell to developers. They may sell to the County.  But this at
least gives the County the resources to be a player in the game of where
the acreage is going to go - just this fraction of 1% of the most
valuable land.

Dave:  It sounds as if there have been great efforts to de-politicize
the process.

Doug:  It couldn't be less political.  We've got the technical scoring
criteria, we've got scientists who will use that criteria and we've got
a group of citizens, not politicians, not people who are running for
office, but people from around the county who represent us - their
fellow citizens - who would ultimately make the decisions.

Dave:  Well, again, this is a proposed ballot measure.  What process
stands before us to actually get it on the ballot?

Doug:  In Washtenaw County the County Board of Commissioners hold the
power to put things on the ballot or keep things off.  Citizens cannot
collect signatures to get it on the ballot.  We can only hope that our
Board of Commissioners will think this is worth having us vote on it.  
And from what I've heard, they are very interested in it.  I think that
if the homebuilders and the realtors and the environmentalists come
together and believe that something is a constructive approach to
limiting the effect of sprawl - and its not stopping it but limiting the
effect - I think the Commissioners are impressed by that.  And they
themselves have been seeking ways to try to limit the effects of
sprawl.  After all, this very same body voted 18-0 to put the 1998
proposal on the ballot.  So I think they are very interested.  I think
it would be a cheap way to do something constructive - right now - and
not talk for another 10 years while the County goes to hell.

Dave:  And the Commissioner's decision needs to be made by early August?

Doug:  That's exactly right.  They've got two months, basically.  That
means their constituents have two months to discuss this matter with
their political representatives.

Dave:  Obviously we'll be following along.  How can people get involved
at this point in the process?

Doug:  Find your commissioner and talk to them or write them.  I think
that it is an important act of public citizenship to write to your local
newspaper.  We have many in the county.  That is a forum where citizens
can communicate to each other as well as their representatives.  And
it's a quick and simple thing to do.  I think people should say what
they want and ask their political representatives to give them a chance
to vote on this.  This tax will only go on the ballot and this land will
only be saved if citizens overwhelmingly come out and say "we want to
vote on it" and then they vote yes in November.

Dave:  Doug, thank you so much for your time.  Donna, information
available on the county web site?

Donna:  It certainly is.  That's http://www.co.washtenaw.mi.us

Dave:  And Doug Cowherd do you have a web site that you would like to
promote as well?

Doug:  We do but I can never remember the address.  If you do a search
for the Sierra Club Huron Valley Group you'll find us there.

Dave:  You are listening to Issues of the Environment during Morning
Edition on WEMU 89.1 FM.

# # #  end of interview  # # #

Contact info for the Huron Valley Group of the Sierra Club: 
http://www.mirror.org/groups/mi-enviro/

Recorded info/voicemail for the Huron Valley Group: 
734.480.7751


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