Editorial: Your turn

August 12, 2009

I’ve heard about the challenges of the 2030 Plan, “Hey, don’t worry, Frank Schier will do it!” Don’t count on it. Don’t count on anybody but yourself for your future.

The “it” I’m speaking of is the crucial and final fight for Amendment 7, which is coming up for a vote before the county board this Thursday night. That’s Aug. 14 at 6 p.m. It’s your opportunity to lead.

The City of Rockford requested low-density designations be changed to agricultural in two areas. One site is bordered by Meridian, Centerville and Tipple roads. The other is situated between Weldon, Kelly, Meridian and Montague roads.

This is a call for leadership and courage to all the members, employees, management and administrators of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association, Natural Land Institute, Green Communities Coalition, Rockford Park District, Winnebago County Forest Preserve District, Winnebago County Soil and Water Conservation District, Audubon Society, Winnebago County Green Business Awards, League of Women Voters, Sierra  Club,  Winnebago County Farm Bureau, Future Farmers of America, 4-H, U of I Extension’s Open Fields Farm Tour, Boy and Girl Scouts of America, First Hand Harvest, Angelic Organics, all the member organizations of the Four Rivers Environmental Coalition!

Frederick Douglass said power yields nothing without demand. Environmentalists must DEMAND Meridian Road IS the firewall, stopping sprawling development into the western agricultural and natural areas of the county.

Of particular concern to naturalists are Severson Dells and the Natural Land Institute holdings between Severson Dells and Meridian. Making a notable comparison, many have noted Rock Cut State Park has been ruined by the light and noise pollution on Highway 173, Alpine Road and I-90, and the surrounding developments. We must ask: “Does the 2030 Plan promote sprawl or discourage sprawl? With the demand for more local food and eco-tourism, where’s the smart growth?io Remember Mr. Robert Rudd’s presentation to the county board on Smart Growth?”

As the final challenge of the county’s Land-use Plan, supporting Amendment 7’s conservation of agriculture stands as the opportunity for all environmentalists and for Winnebago County itself to show leadership to the Villages of Winnebago, Pecatonica and Durand. Demand they  build in and up, not out. Think of the wonderful view from a six-plus-story building in Durand or any of these villages—and that includes Rockford!

Sprawl robs Rockford of property taxes and makes both the city and the county extend our infrastructure and services out, resulting in higher taxes for citizens. The assertion the existing and new industrial designations’ need for housing would drive those people to Rockton and Roscoe is ridiculous. What about all the infill and building-up opportunities right in southwest Rockford? What about the whole west side of Rockford? We have plenty of vacant land, some pretty good neighborhoods, Klehm Arboretum, and the new condos on South Main Street—right on the river, which is tremendously underdeveloped.

County Board member Angie Goral (D-7) argues the Steering Committee of the 2030 Land-Use Management Plan designated this area for the low-density regulation because such designation would be a stopgap for any City of Rockford commercial or industrial annexation in the area. The city has said areas like Park-Er Woods do need new sewer lines and the West State Trunk is at capacity, but commercial projects are unlikely at this time. Just as environmentalists are pushing the county to do the right thing by preserving farmland, we can apply the same kind of pressure to the city. And we should. Why?

Because, when citing the nine land-use plan objectives, Goral’s fellow Board member Steve Schultz (R-2) correctly argued: “Throughout the plan document and throughout the reports that came from the community focus group committees, there was consistent feedback that said: ‘We don’t want sprawl. We want to keep development contiguous to existing municipalities.’” While the Steering Committee may be willing to sell the farm to sprawl out of fear, anti-sprawl local citizens clearly want to keep the farm and the principle of “smart growth.”

This public opinion is nothing new. The Rock River Valley Green Communities Study of 2002-2004 said: “Respondents voiced strong agreement that development should occur in areas with access to public utilities (84.7 percent) and that vacant city land should be used before extending development into the countryside (83.2 percent). Most (71.9 percent) said that development should be located in or near already-developed areas and that too much residential development is taking place in the rural farming areas (71.3 percent).”

Leapfrog development is foolish. Those subdivisions are likely to be built with septic systems that will have to be expensively bypassed with sewer as orderly growth surrounds them. Cookie-cutter houses in farm fields look like they are easier to sell, or so say some of the misguided in the development  and real estate industry. But what do they really cost us all?

Let’s really think about the current economy and the tax burdens this will create for new sewer and roads, police and fire protection, and new schools and ambulances. Several large subdivisions to the north already have failing septic systems, with yards too small to build the required new ones, so they’ll have to be hooked up to municipal sewer systems. Costs, costs, costs, taxes, taxes, taxes. Think of the existing, overstressed budgets of law enforcement, public services, schools and roads. Our roads are crumbling now, and we can’t fix them all.

How about the cost of flooding caused by runoff from cities and new development? Considering the disasters of recent floods, do we really want more rooftops, parking lots, sidewalks and roads? Whole subdivisions have flooded recently. Want more?

If more than 10 percent of the watershed is affected and you have degradation for all of our four rivers. Winnebago County is the only county with four rivers in the State of Illinois. What a draw! Plus, the Kishwaukee is one of only three Class A rivers in the state. What unique natural resources!

Most importantly, agriculture is a natural resource. As Andy Hazzard has pointed out, oil and diamonds are natural resources, too, but you can’t eat them. They’re value is finite. Agriculture keeps on giving. As transportation costs continue to skyrocket, just like local eco-tourism’s possibilities, we have a front-40-farm industry that is already booming and will continue to grow. They’re good employers and taxpayers, too! The U of I Extension’s Open Fields Farm Tour is just a start. More local foods are coming! Look at our Farmers’ Market ads in The Rock River Times. At least twice as many exist. Farming is a growing industry with more expansion on the way!

The Environmental Policy and Law Center states: “USDA predicts that farmers and ranchers may stand to earn an additional $100 million annually by 2012. The agricultural sector could gain an additional $20 billion alone from carbon-reducing measures by the year 2040.”

“Another key funding victory for the Farm Bill Energy Title! On Aug. 4, the U.S. Senate passed the FY2010 Agriculture appropriations budget. The Senate’s budget doubles funding for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) by adding an additional $68.1 million in discretionary funding and boosts the Biorefinery Assistance Program funding by $17.3 million.

“Learn more about REAP at www.farmenergy.org.”

Surrounded by farmland, Severson Dells and Natural Land Institute lands are a precious resources threatened by encroaching noise and light pollution.

Many have heard of the “No Child Left Inside” movement. I say, “No Adult Left Inside!” We all should go (especially every single elected official) to Rock Cut and roll down our car window, get out and take a walk—look, listen! Do the same at Severson Dells. Do the same at dusk and see how many stars you can see in each park.

In Severson Dells’ untouched beauty, the sound of silence sings nature’s song, nurturing the body, mind and soul. Try it, and look out across the farm fields. Will you let uncontrolled sprawl ruin our panoramas into the future for us and our children’s generations to come? Step up. Act now. Once the farmland is gone, and the parks are ruined, we’ll never get them back.

Everyone’s opportunity to lead rests in the support of Amendment 7 to bring us the quality of life we all deserve and must demand. Call all the county board members. Tell them to sustain the future; it’s good for everyone’s personal and business life. Will we live to work, or work to live?

Here’s some good work: go out to your local thrift store and buy some green sheets or old curtains (recycle-reuse). Cut them up into armbands. Actually show up at the county board wearing these, with a few extras for those without. The powers that be regard environmentalists as a ragtag group anyway because our focus is so scattered, and we never speak as a group. Think of all the people in the groups mentioned at the beginning of this column. Those organizations have to empower their members and employees to actually stand up politically for what they work for every day professionally, or their own missions are a joke. Top-down management looses the creativity and vision of from the lower to the heights drive. I would bet all those organization comprise 6,000 to 10,000 people, maybe more. Talk about a voting bloc! Talk about swinging elections! Claim your power and demand what is right for our land! This is a good practice run.

Once Amendment 7 passes or fails, the real challenge will be in the language of the actual law of the 2030 plan, formally known as the Unified Development Ordinances (UDOs). Then, the Kishwaukee River Strategic Plan needs to be implemented. Then, there’s the whole question of 500 wind turbines in western Winnebago County. Your leadership is mandatory.

Call or e-mail all your county board members—the list is on our excellent new Web site, www.rockrivertimes.com. Show up with a green rag on your arm at the county board meeting—or don’t come  ragging to me about damage to the environment. Step up. Have courage. Your call. Your turn. Maybe we’ll see each other Thursday night and at all those future meetings; maybe we won’t. Your turn.

from the Aug 12-18, 2009 issue

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