Bookmark and Share

Letters to Editor

Location

Dear Editor:

I’ve decided to add my two cents to the controversy over the Wal-Mart store. We need jobs and construction, so I’m not opposed. It may even not greatly affect the local shops which cater to tourist, ski/hunting gear and western wear or other specialties. Our existing brand name stores are used to competing against them in other places. It may even help keep people shopping in Pagosa as they don’t need to drive to Durango to compare prices.

It’s the location I think is absurd. For years and years, people have looked across Pinon Lake at the golf course, quality homes and mountains beyond, then stopped at a real estate office to see how they can live here. Why compromise that prime area or any major view area that attracts tourists? Other, more industrial and less residential choices such as the old sawmill property are available. Maybe the school could sell them the rocky area off Light Plant Road since we don’t want our elementary students mixed on same campus as the high-schoolers.

It also should not be located in our most congested area. This is not an industrial area. The land developers probably have offered Wal-Mart a deal, but this community and its leaders have the duty to also protect our tourist and residential interests.

This is also a major duckling crossing, so I don’t look forward to that carnage either.

Sue Angelo

Monster

Dear Editor:

Pagosa’s town council has foolishly invited a megacorporate monster to come to our community. Developing a Wal-Mart here would destroy our local character, extract our wealth, homogenize us into a mass consumer culture, and distinguish us as another Anytown, USA.

Enormous global corporations like Wal-Mart wield dangerous political influence akin to the tyrannical monarchs of Europe we broke free from 250 years ago. Mayor Aragon’s despotic denial of a politically rightful forum for public comment on the issue is an example of the same. Our town council doesn’t have the wisdom to recognize the dangerous consequences of selling out their community to Wal-Mart. Spending CDC money to subsidize existing businesses in order to mitigate the effects of an invited monster is wasteful hypocrisy. Offering incentives to develop new, small, clean businesses and community-owned retail is a better alternative.

Wal-Mart is skilled at devouring small towns by destroying local business competition and channelling a community’s limited supply of dollars away into its megacorporate craw. When it contracts and leaves, it leaves one of the ugliest landscape features on the planet. The few jobs a Wal-Mart creates cannot offset the loss of those it destroys. Tax gains from a superstore will ultimately be worth less than the loss of devoured local businesses and their locally spent dollars.

The values Wal-Mart represents directly conflict with our community values. Wal-Mart represents huge, fast, urban, cheap, ugly, artificial, impersonal, pollutive, banal and bland. We are high country beautiful, pristine and wild. We are also small, rural, friendly, diverse, unique, creative, generous, independent and self-reliant. And we are not in a rush to say goodbye to our cherished values by shopping in some toxic box of a concentrated carcinogenic corporate cornucopia.

Buying into a Wal-Mart cheapens both the local and the global community. Their synthetic stuff is produced through pollutive processes by exploited workers in the world’s peasant countries. Depending upon cheaply made foreign products reduces our self-reliance and dignity. Choosing to patronize discount corporations like Wal-Mart teaches our children that we value money over self-capability and human rights, that our worth is as mere consumers, and that it is OK to reduce our personal relationships to transactions

The ships that bring Wal-Mart goods from China into L.A. Harbor are almost a mile long. They come in loaded. They return to China empty. In a vicious cycle, U.S. dollars lose global value as we keep sending more abroad then borrowing them back (increasing debt) to finance a war machine that uses more energy than anything else on earth in order to control flows of oil to sustain lifestyles addicted to cheap energy, government-subsidized industrially produced foods and cheap foreign-made consumer goods. It’s a self-destructive life-support system.

As a concerned citizenry, we must cooperate and commit to keeping each other thriving at the local level. We don’t need the cheap jobs and cheaper goods offered by megacorporate dependence. Our need is to awaken from the decadent dream by which we identify with violent power, affluence and consumerism and relearn how to share and care for each other.

Barr Bentley

Our loss

Dear Editor:

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the numbers of the self-employed peaked in 2006 and they are now at the lowest levels in 25 years.

These enterprises may not employ many, but statistics demonstrate the majority of recent job losses have occurred in this sector. But unlike other recessions, small companies are not leading the charge back into recovery. Money and financing remain tight.

The role of entrepreneurs in the American economy is legendary for their never-ending search for the new, unique and imaginative. One of the unique characteristics of the U.S. economic system is the freedom to start a business relatively easily and quickly. Indeed, one of the engines of growth is the employment and wages generated by small businesses.

I used to take comfort in the dozens of small businesses around our town. Each unique, adding to the fabric and character of our community. Now I drive through town and see vacant buildings and crumbling infrastructure.

Locally, more uncertainty now blankets our small business community than ever as they continue to weather the recession and also anticipate the impending arrival of Wal-Mart. That will likely be the death knell for many more. You can only “tighten your belt” and be optimistic for so long. The will to hang on is disappearing.

Which will be first to go? Alco? The Family Dollar store? Our local opticians? Jackisch? Ace Hardware? Ponderosa? Old Towne Market? The sporting goods stores? These good neighbors provide visible reminder of what being self-employed embodies, with the owners and employees enriching the community through their volunteer work, participation and commitment.

What I worry about is the loss of a generation. This will result in a broken link; there is no one around to take over, revive that entrepreneurial spirit and renew. We are losing a type of institutional memory: knowledge held by a group of how to be self-sufficient and how to get things done.

These are the memories and lessons transferred from one generation to another. This is how we do it in Pagosa. It may not work in other places, but it’s how we do it—our own stamp of culture. It’s a culture of sharing our community values. These small businesses have been a part of a cultural community which has grown together to make Pagosa unique.

Places and their people do matter.

The products we will be able to buy at Wal-Mart will be generic, made by cheap Chinese labor. Profits will be shipped out of town to Bentonville, AR, and decisions affecting our community will be made there, too. We’ll save some money.

But what I’ll miss is the conversations with and the lost insight and contributions from the community’s small business owner’s point of view — lessons I will never learn.

I’ll be less of a person and we will be less of a community for it.

Muriel Eason

Visitor

Dear Editor:

I am a proud mother of four children living in the bustling, often chaotic commotion that city life has to offer. We are used to our fast-paced life. The impatience and malice of the majority of drivers brings on an unnecessary sense of restlessness. Some people wave hello when we pass, but the harsh reality is, most people don’t. We are on the go seven days a week, and vacations can’t come soon enough. Pagosa Springs is one of our favorite places to visit. It is an escape from the city that always brings us a calm, and an adventure at the same time. The people are so friendly; the local businesses our favorites. In the morning, we wake up and take a stroll down the small town main street, to the local bakery to grab a homemade muffin and tea. Even though it is a small town, we seem to find everything we need. Looking for the snow gloves we forgot to pack seems a little more exciting as we browse through the local shops.

When I found that a Wal-Mart might make its way to Pagosa, I was saddened for so many reasons. The thought that some of our favorite places may be forced to close because they’ll be beat out by the prices of Wal-Mart concerns me. There are 20 Wal-Marts within 15 miles of my home, and I do shop at some of them. This is mostly because you won’t find a locally owned business within miles and miles of this big box metropolis marketplace. Even in this vast city, with so many shoppers and the potential for retail success, they did not stand a chance.

I know the freeways like the back of my hand. My kids can’t play outside alone because it is not safe. When I go on vacation to Pagosa, I want to get away from the hurried city life. Please don’t put a Wal-Mart in Pagosa. Keep it the way that it is, so that families like us can visit it and get the same experience for years to come. It is the town’s small businesses that help make Pagosa so unique. If a Wal-Mart goes up in this town, we will find a new paradise to vacation.

Sincerely yours,

Tisha Ferguson

Phoenix, Ariz.

Authentic

Dear Editor:

Reservoir Hill is a natural resource for the community, not a commercial property to be developed by town politicians. Our own Chamber of Commerce describes Pagosa Springs as “Refreshingly Authentic.” Let’s keep it that way.

After Wednesday’s public meeting on the development of Reservoir Hill, I have lost faith in the Town Tourism Committee’s (TTC) ability to foster commerce. Reservoir Hill is an asset to this community and should never be developed into a tacky amusement park. The entire business model and proposed amenities feels like a contrived rebuke for purchasing a $41,000 decommissioned chairlift.

We need positive growth and political change in this town. How did Wal-Mart become a seemingly inevitable addition to our “Refreshingly Authentic” community? Why did Mayor Ross Aragon despotically denounce public comment during the town council meeting on Jan. 3? We should demand transparency and rationalization from the town officials that residents vote into office.

Why would taxpayers of Pagosa Springs take on a $4.3 million loan in order for private enterprise to operate a resort-style amusement park? I do not want my tax dollars to support this atrocity. In the presentation on Jan. 25, the TTC estimated 100 people per hour would ride the alpine coaster during peak season, and 28 people per hour would ride during the off season. I work almost exclusively in the tourism industry and I am dubious about these projections. Even so, that’s a lot of traffic on our beloved hill, creating a tremendous amount of garbage and human waste.

A simple and well-designed, permanent stage complementing the stunning scenery of Reservoir Hill would be a huge benefit for this town and its community. The project should include reworking the meadow for proper water drainage, and installing a sprinkler system and building storage into the facility. A simple, eloquent and picturesque structure that is functional for large and small events alike would benefit the community immensely. The amphitheater would stimulate weekly concerts, potential large-scale festivals and create a stronger community, thus encouraging new business opportunities for local residents and a “Refreshingly Authentic” view of Pagosa for tourists to take home.

There are a few things to bear in mind when considering Reservoir Hill’s projected business plan: the TTC has no funding for these proposed amenities and, from what I’ve seen, very little support from the residents of Pagosa Springs. As a community, we need to learn how to live within our means. A gaudy amusement park on top of Reservoir Hill costing $4.3 million is similar to taking out a subprime mortgage on a home we can never afford.

Kyle Frye

Consequences

Dear Editor:

I was amused by Town Council member Stan Holt’s Jan. 26 Letter to the Editor, “Election.” Mr. Holt’s letter was an appeal — to those who think they know better than the current town leadership — to run for three Town Council at-large vacancies. Mr. Holt notes, among other things, that the position is entirely volunteer, takes “200-300 hours of your personal/family time each year” and requires “a willingness to endure vilification, condemnation, innuendos and falsification.” I would say that is an accurate description of the job — especially the falsification part.

It’s unfortunate that the legal requirements to run for Town Council exclude 86 percent of the community’s voters who are denied the right to elect the representatives who spend their tax dollars. It saddens me to hear over and over that a majority of those remaining 14 percent who live within the town boundaries reside in a culture of fear and are reluctant to involve themselves in local politics. Maybe that’s why those who openly oppose many of the town decisions — those of us with crystal balls and superior knowledge as Mr. Holt mockingly suggests — have been gerrymandered outside town limits and therefore are ineligible to serve on the Town Council. The concentration of town voters within a short walk of the mayor’s house, in spite of sprawling annexation of commercial property for five miles along U.S. 160, was the intended design of the Pagosa Springs town leaders. We are experiencing their intended consequences.

So, dear fellow community members that reside within the town, I wish you well filling your Town Council vacancies.

Cynda Green

Positive

Dear Editor:

The editorial about Reservoir Hill was right on. Then came the one regarding the big box issue and the explanation of why we became interesting to the powers that be at Wal-Mart. Ron and I have evidently contributed to the population numbers. Now what I am wondering is have they subtracted from those numbers, how many families have had to move for one reason or another. It would be nice to have some transparency on these points and another thing — if this gets built and there is a strong boycott of the store and it is finally decided that it was an unsuccessful venture, what happens? Wal-Mart has been known to lock the doors and walk away, leaving an empty building and all of that ugly asphalt covering the ground. Now, wouldn’t that be beautiful, right there on 160?

Since people have told me they like my letters because they are usually so positive, I will mention now some of my heroes. We have an absolutely wonderful senior class at the high school. This year, Max Miller, Rylie Gardner and Rylie Searle sang the national anthem before the basketball games last week and the harmony was beautiful. Saturday, Zoe Fulco, Leslie Baughman, Brooke Hampton, Rylie Gardner and others served food at the Empty Bowls fund-raiser and then helped clean up along with the Brown family, Mark, Lisa (dad and mom) and Zack and Dan. I have enjoyed the company of many of these young people this year.

Cindy Gustafson

Heroes

Dear Editor:

The other day I was on Facebook and I came across a list of American Marines who had lost their lives in action recently. Seeing those names broke my heart. Those men and women are the very reason that I am able to sit here in Bible school and worship my God like I do. They are the very reason I can even write this. It is because of men and women like these that I am able to chase my dreams and pursue my passions. I can do that because thousands of U.S. soldiers give up their freedoms, their dreams, their safety and even their lives so that we may live in a free country.

I believe that these American soldiers deserve more than a round of applause or a slap on the back on Veterans Day. These men and women deserve our honor and respect, they deserve to be treated like the heroes they truly are. These soldiers deserve our support and our appreciation.

I want to say thank you to all of the men and women in every branch of the military. Thank you for all that you have done for this country. Thank you for your sacrifices and the heavy price you have paid so that I may live a free life. Your sacrifices have not gone unnoticed, and I want to personally thank every veteran, every active military personnel, and all the families that have lost a loved one. Thank you for paying the price to make our country free. We are forever grateful and in your debt.

Magan Kraetsch

Amphitheater

Dear Editor:

With the current discussion regarding future development, or not, on Reservoir Hill, I want to put some ideas out for further consideration. From all accounts of the public forum of Jan. 25, there was a significant portion of people who don’t want any change to Reservoir Hill and a significant percentage who would be in favor of building an amphitheater and managing the forest.

FolkWest has produced festivals on Reservoir Hill since 1996, making no major permanent changes to the hill. While we can certainly continue to do so in the future, I think residents of Pagosa Springs should consider the benefits of a permanent amphitheater.

FolkWest is the only group in town that has invested a significant amount of money in the equipment necessary to produce a show on Reservoir Hill. We have fencing, a half mile of heavy duty electrical cords, a water pump to get potable water from the tank to the spigot area, a stage that gets built and disassembled every year, and a host of things required to turn a bare piece of land into a major concert venue for six days a year.

We have been asked if we would be willing to do more events and our answer has been “no.” The main reason is that Reservoir Hill, in its undeveloped state, cannot support any more large events than the two that bookend the summer. In order for the meadow to “bounce back” faster in between events, it would need to be graded and seeded with native grass and have an irrigation system installed (the holding tank is already there).

If an amphitheater were built in the meadow area, new users would be able to come in and take advantage of a virtually turn-key venue.

Another benefit of a more permanent venue on the Hill is ADA compliance. Hard-surface trails would make event attendance possible for everyone without requiring extra event personnel for assistance.

How will these improvements be paid for? FolkWest is currently working with the Town of Pagosa Springs to finalize a ticket fee structure, the proceeds of which will go toward improvements on the hill. We project raising nearly $10,000 in 2012. Imagine if five other groups were generating ticket fees on Reservoir Hill. That would result in $60,000 per year to the Town of Pagosa Springs.

Additionally, the town would be able to charge a rental fee for use of the facility. FolkWest currently pays $4,000 to rent the large tent that houses the stage and audience. We could instead pay that amount as a rental fee for use of a structure that had a covered stage and a covered seating area. These rental fees could conservatively bring another $15-$30k per year to the town.

Imagine Pagosa Springs experiencing six times the amount of traffic currently generated by FolkWest’s events each year. This tourism traffic translates into direct spending in the community, resulting in increased sales tax and lodgers tax revenues for the town. In time, the venue could be used every weekend from June through October. This is a huge return on investment, and for the 300-plus days a year when there are no events, Reservoir Hill would return to its quiet and pristine state.

There are a lot of considerations before the amphitheater plan is embraced wholeheartedly, aside from economic factors. It must be built in such a way to accommodate current audience sizes on the hill. The structure must be aesthetically beautiful and blend with the natural environment — think Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, which has become a tourist destination in and of itself. On any given day, you’ll find dozens of people touring the facility, taking photos of the magnificent panoramas of the City of Denver stretched out in the distance. I personally believe that the San Juan Mountains are even more stunning as far as backdrops are concerned.

Crista Munro

Open house

Dear Editor:

Excuse me, did I read in your Jan. 26 edition of The SUN that there is a planned “open house” on Feb. 16, from 4:30-6:30 p.m. regarding Wal-Mart? Did I also read that Wal-Mart representatives will lay out their plans for Pagosa Springs and that we, the people, could respond with questions written on cards and/or have discussions with Wal-Mart representatives in their various booths?

What happened to the proposed public forum, which was promised to the citizens of Archuleta County? What happened to the fair and informative and open discussions between Wal-Mart and us? It appears that there is an effort afoot to keep us as quiet as possible and to push our input, regarding Wal-Mart, under the rug and to push Wal-Mart’s agenda forward. That is not a process for an open and democratic meeting.

We all have opinions regarding our small mountain community. We all have a desire for the healthy growth of our community. Just because Wal-Mart has, in the past, used the open house format does not mean that we have to follow that plan. We the people want our voice heard and we want it heard in a public forum. We do not need to submit ideas written on cards and we do not need the use of various “information booths,” manned by Wal-Mart representatives, to discuss our concerns. The reason this is Wal-Mart’s preferred method of handing a crowd is simply because it, by its own nature, shuts down public participation and concerns. Wal-Mart and our town planner, Mr. Dickhoff, and all other concerned community leaders need to be reminded that we, the public, want a public forum with open public discussions — no cards, no booths, no open house, and at an evening time when more citizens can attend due to their work schedule. The proposed 4:30-6:30 p.m., Feb. 16, time eliminates many who are still at their jobs.

Jim and Cynthia Peironnet

Empty

Dear Editor:

As long as you have a nation of citizens that places cheap prices over fair, and dignified labor practices, you will have Wal-Mart.

As long as you have a nation of citizens that consumes with no regard for consequences, you will have Wal-Mart.

As long as you have a nation of citizens willing to exploit their town, in the name of low prices, you will have Wal-Mart.

As long as you have a nation of citizens willing to ignore the true goal of a large, multinational cooperation; profit, at any cost, above all, you will have Wal-Mart.

As long as you have a nation of citizens willing to tolerate a multinational corporation’s exploitation of human workers, government agencies, not paying a liveable wage, you will have Wal-Mart.

As long as you have a nation of citizens that willingly turns a blind eye to the multinational corporations’ indoctrination of our society and children, to meet their goal of maximum profit at any cost, you will have Wal-Mart.

Jump on board, Pagosa, we are next, your “community leaders” sold you out...

I hope the parking lot here in Pagosa is empty.

Kelly Ralston

Bright side

Dear Editor:

Even though it is very distressing to me that Ross Aragon and others would even consider allowing a Wal-Mart here, I cannot help but see the bright side. Just think! Ross Aragon can negotiate to have his office placed right in the middle of Wal-Mart and they could provide any necessary supplies for him. Maybe he could serve as a greeter for a certain number of hours as barter (as long as he is not robbing anyone of a $13-an-hour job). We could rename the Ross Aragon Community Center to the Wal-Mart Community Center and have them pay for it. Wal-Mart might be enticed to provide our school lunches, snacks, sports equipment, uniforms, musical instruments, and all manner of supplies. Perhaps Wal-Mart would sponsor a foreign language program for our school children to enable them to compete in the business world of today. Maybe we could just move the schools over there and solve the facilities problem as well. The children could simply be herded from department to department, depending on the lesson plan. And what about our accessibility to healthcare issues! We could have the medical center incorporated into the store.

It does not have to be all about business, though. We could start the Wal-Mart Rodeo, where the participants compete for discount coupons while demonstrating their prowess with shopping carts. We could draw in Wal-Mart shoppers from all over America — could be very big! Just think of the Fourth of July fireworks display Wal-Mart could provide. Perhaps a New Year’s Eve display would be possible.

Gosh, I can hardly wait!

All dementia aside, the face of this town will be changed forever if we become a Wal-Mart-branded community.

I love a discount and a good deal just as much as anybody. But the price we would really be paying here goes far beyond managing a monthly budget. We must focus on the community and rely on the strengths we already possess if we are serious about preserving this most beautiful region. Maybe the Wal-Mart issue will be the catalyst by which our best finally get together and create our own unique and self-sustaining Pagosa Springs brand.

Lauri C. Ross

Done deal

Dear Editor:

Think it’s a done deal? Wal-Mart won’t commit to building here until it squeezes everything it can out of our community. Property tax abatements and PAWSD tap fee reductions will be sought. And communities that challenge a new store are successful 65 percent of the time, so with Wal-Mart, it’s never a done deal. Not enough public subsidies or too much protest and they just move on. So, before they gut our local businesses, let’s put Pagosa first, because Wal-Mart won’t. We can do better.

David Schanzenbaker

Unique

Dear Editor:

Folks visit our beautiful area for the unique setting, the serenity of quiet, our awesome vistas and our friendly business folks. Families and groups of skiers return year after year to take in the beauty of the mountains as they ski down the slopes. Wolf Creek is probably the only major ski area in the state where one can take the lift to the top, stop and look around and down and see nothing but beauty — no neon lights, no condos, no traffic, no loud music — just quiet beauty.

The same is true for our town — the hot springs, so enjoyable, the river, so much fun, the various festivals in Town Park. Reservoir Hill provides a convenient place for guests to enjoy without driving a distance. Families arrive; Mom and Dad are tired from the trip, but the kids are ready to go. Hiking up the hill helps them through that first day until they are ready for more. Improving trails for Nordic skiing is a great idea — again, a peaceful, quiet activity.

I’m sorry, business folks, but your desire for more money just doesn’t make sense. I believe that this crazy plan will simply drive folks away from here rather than extend their stays. Tourists have places like Six Flags, Disney World and the such near home — they come here for the change in environment and quality of life they do not have at home.

Patty P. Tillerson

Sink hole

Dear Editor:

An open letter to the mayor:

I am a homeowner in downtown Pagosa Springs. My husband and I found Pagosa to be “refreshingly authentic,” as the Visitor’s Center claims, and were delighted to leave the strip malls and big box stores of our home state behind. I believe in a sustainable Pagosa: Pagosa’s future lies in protecting its wild, off the beaten path, traditional, mountain town atmosphere, where abundant natural resources (hot springs, hiking/riding trails, fly fishing, XC skiing and downhill skiing at Wolf Creek) attract people from around the country. If this image is maintained, the town attracts tourists and second home purchasers (thus spurring the construction industry). An artist community could emerge in the process because of cheaper real estate prices compared to our competition elsewhere in the state (the new Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts on Put Hill is a significant move in the right direction, as are the longer-standing businesses of Handcrafted Interiors, Wild Spirit Gallery, Made in Colorado, and others). Attracting new artists and Western craftspeople should be the aim of CDC, not holding the hands of failing businesses as Wal-Mart loots the town.

Inviting Wal-Mart into Pagosa Springs is like inviting a predator to dinner. The history of Wal-Mart’s impacts on small towns include the export of capital to headquarters and stockholders (instead of circulating through the town), the collapse of small local businesses, the increased demand on social services due to the exploitative employment policies of Wal-Mart (part-time status, low wages, no health insurance for the large majority of workers). The scale and location of this project are inappropriate for a small town which leans heavily on eco-tourism to attract dollars to a charming town.

Wal-Mart’s jobs claims are a gross exaggeration—you need to calculate the net impact of this project once you subtract the existing retail jobs at area merchants which will be lost. The extended negative impacts will include support businesses such as accountants, bankers, office suppliers, computer support, cleaning crews, repair services, merchandise suppliers.

This project is not an example of economic development, but rather economic displacement. A store the size of two football fields is excessive and presents a sterile, trite, unpleasant image for a “refreshingly authentic” Western town.

Finally, if you decide to go ahead with this monstrosity, you should agree to no financial incentives — abatements of any type, including sales tax rebates, now or in the future, for this inconceivably wealthy corporation. This is a form of public welfare, and represents another perk given to large corporations at the expense of smaller merchants who are already at a significant competitive disadvantage to the retail giants. If that firm stance should make Wal-Mart turn its back on Pagosa Springs, so much the better.

Please look at the case studies of other towns that have been devastated by Wal-Mart. As mayor, you should be leading the effort to reject this ill-conceived proposal. Do we really want to transform a delightful Western town into a corporate sinkhole, and leave that to our children and grandchildren?

Linda Williams

Techniques

Dear Editor:

In January, I attended the Town Council meeting where the public was not allowed to provide input on the proposed Wal-Mart project. In reading Jim McQuiggin’s article on the upcoming Feb. 16 Wal-Mart “dog and pony show” meeting, I was saddened by the fact that Wal-Mart’s influence over the town council extended to how the town would “manage” the public.

For over 30 years, I worked on large controversial projects impacting local communities doing environmental, social and economic impact assessments under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA, 1969). This Act ushered in the era of public involvement in regulation and practice. The law literally helped lead the way to a change in the political culture of the country. Public involvement leading to participatory democracy has become the cultural norm across America. Culture change can be slow and painful for those that resist.

I have worked on some of the most controversial projects in the country, including cleanup of radioactive waste, hazardous waste and the selection of sites for the high-level nuclear waste repository. In cases where the political culture did not allow the public to be included in a sincere way, these projects languished in conflict and court. Over the years, governments got smarter and started robust programs to include the public at every stage of decision-making, using a variety of formal and informal techniques.

I have designed and taught public involvement in courses sponsored by the President’s Council on Environmental Quality at Duke’s Environmental Leadership Program, as well as for Argonne National Laboratory. One of the many techniques that I discussed was the “information forums” or workshops. The “information forum” technique splits up the opposition, doesn’t allow others to hear the concerns of their neighbors, doesn’t allow people to see who is emerging as a knowledgeable leader and keeps public officials out of the position of having to defend their decisions/actions in public. There are better techniques however, where elected officials do their jobs and set up legitimate, official public meetings where they hear the concerns of their neighbors and answer questions and consider alternative visions for the future.

It is no surprise to me that Wal-Mart has successfully employed the “divide and conquer” technique in the past. What surprises me is that our town council would so easily succumb to Wal-Mart’s way of doing business, especially so early in the process. Is this an indication of how small towns end up losing control so easily when multinational corporate decisions determine how local government will deal with their own constituents? Or is this an indication that the mayor, Town Council and manager are experiencing culture lag, and they are stuck in the 1970s political mindset? NEPA required us to, “fulfill the responsibilities of each generation as trustee of the environment for succeeding generations.” As our children and grandchildren come of voting age, I doubt that they will tolerate or appreciate not being able to participate in the political dialog affecting their future. I know I don’t.

Gary Williams

blog comments powered by Disqus
TERMS OF USE