Wednesday, October 24, 2001
Rutland Herald

Common ground

October 24, 2001

The public forum to be held Thursday evening at the Paramount Theatre is a welcome effort by the Rutland business community to broaden the dialogue in the region on issues of the economy and the environment.

The Rutland Economic Development Corp. is sponsor of the event. REDC is the agency in the Rutland region whose aim is to foster growth by helping to bring new business into the region and by supporting businesses already here.

It is the belief of REDC officials and business people who work with REDC that Vermonters are not well served by an us-against-them attitude on environmental questions. The purpose of the forum on Thursday will be to help those concerned about the economy and those concerned about the environment to find common ground.

REDC has experienced frustration in recent years with regard to a variety of projects. Limits on the capacity of the highways in the Rutland region have hindered efforts by OMYA Inc. to boost transport of marble on Route 7 through Brandon. In addition, OMYA’s plans to open a quarry in rural Danby have faltered in part because local roads cannot handle the traffic.

Residents of the Danby area have played a prominent role in opposing OMYA’s plans in the area and, earlier, in opposing construction of a gas pipeline that might have run through their towns on its way from Bennington to Rutland. Annette Smith, a Danby resident who has been the most outspoken opponent of these projects, will be on the panel Thursday night, along with other business and environmental activists.

It may be easier to find common ground in the abstract than in the particular. Environmentalists would do well to recognize how an economy in decline is not one that is well suited to protecting the environment. The built environment of depressed rural areas is not attractive, and people in a declining economy are less able to protect important natural resources.

Business people would do well to recognize that the values drawing people to live in Vermont often cannot be commodified. It is hard to place a market value on a pristine rural environment. Those who live in such places often resent the industrial exploitation of the place they view as home.

On specific projects, there are likely to be some people on both sides – developers and environmentalists – who view compromise as defeat. Indeed, Vermont development law is premised on the idea that citizens ought to have the right to block inappropriate projects and that some projects should be defeated.

But the development process in Vermont usually works as a form of collaboration, in which the concerns of residents are taken into account and developers modify their projects accordingly. That is an adversarial process that can be made more civil and productive if each side understands the legitimate claims of the other.

That is the understanding REDC is seeking to promote in its forum on Thursday evening. Those interested in solving the riddle of how to honor Vermont’s environmental values while promoting a prosperous economy ought to attend. William Shutkin from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will be the speaker, and he will lead a panel discussion at which business and environmental leaders will search for that elusive common ground.