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Both sides have passionate opinions

08/28/2008

By Matthew Jarosinski

Opinions on both sides are held passionately: The opponents are criticized for selfishness, while the proponents are condemned for trying to profit from the irrational hopes of others. The issue will be decided, though not resolved, at the ballot box.

There is no need, at present, for a water system. All experts I spoke with confirm that fact. Indeed even the town's own website confirms that even without a municipal water system incremental urban growth in this area is possible. There wouldn't be need for a water system in the future unless the town forces the level of density, which their ambitious Urban Growth Plan requires. The water project can be thus justified as a part of the urban growth plan.
 
There are two competing visions -- against the dense urban growth and in favor of. Since both sides agree that community must take into account the effects of a dense urban built-up I will first present the main effects. Firstly, urban footprints bring irreversible destruction to nature and pose new significant risks to human health. All around the world communities are beginning to realize that they must retain precious country settings. Still in Waitsfield the addiction to urban growth seized the local way of thinking. It seems therefore that the project may have roots in good intentions but that it was grounded in unrealistic assumptions.
 
The wetlands are not for housing. Yet, the Waitsfield plan creates an urban center stretching in the narrow Route 100 corridor, close to the river and within wetlands. The urban center will swallow areas near the river. The amount of salt and chemicals dumped into the area during winter will skyrocket. The river will be polluted. The destruction of wetlands, the habitat and wildlife could not be avoided. It seems obvious that in this area the current sparse urban development should be preserved at all cost. The Master Plan assumes only partial loss of the wetlands and abatement of all environmental problems. Yet, there are no examples, not even one, of a dense urban growth helping the nature and environment.
 
The distance is too long for pedestrian travel. The area will be paved and crowded with vehicles. All units, including elderly housing, will be affected by noise and pollution. Bear in mind that in Waitsfield Route 100 is a transit road entirely different in that respect from Mountain Road in Stowe. The only outlet for the urban center will be the busy Route 100. It will create heavy traffic jam and the traffic, including commercial, will spill to scenic Common Road and East Warren Road creating noise and pollution there. For high-density urban growth the compact area in different location should be given priority. When has this Urban Plan been approved by the voters of Waitsfield? The Plan was not put on a ballot although gradual implementation has begun.
 
The full implementation of the plan hangs on the construction of the municipal water system. The proposed system can only serve a limited number of participants and yet the project gives the town unrestrained powers over the entire community. The system can be unilaterally extended. The town will have the right to force residents to connect to the system in a case of health hazard. And the Town had already affirmed the health hazard condition in this area. The user cost can be increased. Taxpayers can be charged with the debt. They can be charged in case of contingency. The project has been based on coercive measures while the available commercial options are absent. The municipal water will be chlorinated. Chlorination can harm people who use the water; it increases risk of miscarriage, can initiate cancer, cause allergic symptoms. The schoolchildren shouldn't drink it and yet the school can be required to connect to the system.
 
So who would benefit from municipal water system in that area? The professional planners hired by the town stated that the Urban Growth Plan "is responsive to the needs and interests of landowners and developers." The petition of the Waitsfield residents says that it would benefit few individuals at the cost of the entire community. Project proponents assume that the dense urban center will bring economic growth. Such assertion, as a rule, belongs to economic mythology. Urban growth follows economic growth and not vice versa. Moreover this claim is strictly economic. The environmental protection has much wider and more fundamental purpose. The environmental damage will go beyond any monetary profit. Wetlands are among the most important ecosystems on the planet, comparable to rain forest and coral reefs. Atmospheric maintenance is an important wetland function. They store carbon instead of releasing it to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. They thus help to moderate global climate. These functions of a wetland disappear in compact urban surroundings.
 
If we call off these projects we can instead spend the money on a variety of important undertakings. Elderly services could be expanded. The wetlands could be preserved and protected. The recreational areas could be improved and maintained. The pedestrian pathways and leisure trails should be built. The bike paths, with small wooden bridges, and soccer field with an athletic track could be built. And a dense urban center, with all its traffic and pollution, can be situated away from the river and away from the wetlands.
 
Finally the opponents point out that even without the Urban Growth Plan the danger of a dense urbanization in the wetlands area will persist if the municipal water system is constructed. The urban expansion once put in motion will be impossible to stop. It will considerably affect our country setting, the wetlands, the river and the wildlife. It will also allow indiscriminate extension of governmental power.
 
The third vote on the municipal water system will have enormous importance.
 
Jarosinski lives in Waitsfield.

Editor's Note: There is no town of Waitsfield Urban Growth Plan, nor is there a Master Plan. The Urban Plan has not been approved by the voters of Waitsfield because it does not exist and is not being implemented. Waitsfield does have a legally adopted Town Plan that includes a land use plan for Waitsfield. That plan calls for continued, village scale development in Irasville and Waitsfield Village to reduce automobile dependence attributable to scattered, single use development patterns.

The wetlands in Irasville are designated as class II wetlands and therefore are subject to protection by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Currently there are no efforts underway to obtain permission to harm or develop such wetlands.  

The proposed water system cannot be unilaterally extended by the town and taxpayers who do not use the system cannot be charged with the debt service on the project. The water at the Waitsfield Elementary School is chlorinated as are all public water systems, in accordance with state law.
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