July 15, 2001

The Sunday Rutland Herald/The Sunday Times Argus


Civil discourse? Pick up the phone

It comes as a great relief to read that REDC (Rutland Economic Development Corporation) has decided to stop waging war on the people of southwestern Vermont [Commentary, Sunday Rutland Herald/Times Argus, 7/1/01]. No doubt the reason they are now calling for a civil discourse is that they have been losing and have finally realized that their bullying methods of the last two years have not been working. It's about time.

REDC, under the management of Executive Director David O'Brien, was a principle driving force in support of the billion-dollar natural gas power plant and pipeline project proposed for Bennington and Rutland Counties. REDC is also the major cheerleader for OMYA's new mine in Danby. REDC jumped on the bandwagon of these two huge projects without considering that there might be opinions and issues other than their own, and without inviting and encouraging the sort of open dialogue they are now requesting.

During the gas project blitz, when the gas salesmen traveled from town to town promoting their wares, I went before ten select boards in Rutland and Bennington Counties. Noticeably absent from my appearances was Rutland. I even wrote a letter to the newspaper offering to come to any forum that wanted to hear another point of view. Nobody called.

"Economic Development and Jobs" has been the rallying cry of REDC's followers in support of industrial development in someone else's neighborhood. For me and my neighbors, the result has been "Economic Devastation." The cost to the people of southwestern Vermont has been nothing short of staggering -- home purchases and sales put on hold, plans to build onto existing homes delayed or dropped, a deal to develop a spring water business destroyed, and the enormous expense of our most precious resource, time. In the two years since the founding of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, individuals in the two impacted counties have contributed $240,000 to fight against these poorly-planned projects. And there is no end in sight, since OMYA announced their project more than a year ago but has no plans to follow through any time soon. Our lives continue to be held hostage to poor planning by big businesses supported by REDC.

Now REDC is holding out the olive branch. VCE contacted REDC several months ago and asked for a constructive dialogue. We asked for the opportunity to bring to REDC the points of view that their organization has not been hearing. We offered to join them at the table to engage in discussions about economic development in the Rutland region. Our efforts were rebuffed.

REDC has even ignored their own member's pleas for constructive dialogue. The Town of Tinmouth, which opposes OMYA's new mine in Danby, was a member of REDC until the Executive Director of REDC championed the proposal in public. REDC never came to Tinmouth to hear their point of view before taking a position. Tinmouth resigned from REDC in protest.

When huge projects gain support of economic development officials without a full understanding of the land use issues to determine whether the projects are even permittable, the result is lots of victims. Yes, there are better ways to go about promoting economic development in the Rutland region. REDC is correct in recognizing that whatever it is that they have been doing is not working.

The "Woe is Us" mantra that flows from the business community in Rutland would be a good place to start making changes. REDC's anecdotal assessment of the Rutland region's problems and opportunities are not supported by facts. The Rutland region has numerous attributes that can be developed, without adding smokestack and extraction industries.

Talking to the citizens their projects might affect, and listening to our point of view is a good place to start. I'm still waiting for your call.

The writer is executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, Inc. in Danby. www.vtce.org