Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Public Involvement Does Make a Difference

I wish I had a handy picture to post of Sarah Hendley wearing her "Preserve Pen park" sandwich board roaming through the city market or other event collecting well over 1000 signatures on a petetion to keep the proposed Eastern Connector roadway out of Pen Park. Her many months of effort appear to have made a difference. Charlottesville Tommorow posted a summary of a recent Eastern Connector Steering Committee meeting entitled "Pen Park route not among Eastern Connector alternatives." Not one of the eleven proposed roadway alignments by PBS&J (the project consultants) goes through Pen Park. A Pen Park alignment was previously a favorite among promoters of the road.

Pen Park has two different protections against being used as a highway alignment under federal law. First, most of the park was developed using federal funds available through the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson limiting use of that facility to other parkland or conservation land; and second, all public parkland is protected against use by a federally funded roadway project where other alignments are feasible and practicable under Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966.

PBS&J project leader Lewis Grimm is quoted in the Charlottesville Tomorrow posting saying "it would be hard to convince the federal government that the use of parkland would be justified. Section 4(f) of the National Environmental Policy Act requires planners to show that all other alternatives have been considered before parkland can be used." Perhaps PBS&J would have made the same recommendation without Sarah Hendley's "Preserve Pen Park" campaign, but I think she clearly raised the issue to a point where it required a clear statement like that given by Grimm. This is the first time these protections were actually cited as a reason to avoid the park to my knowledge in the development of this project.

There are other parks threatened by highway projects in our region and I hope other project consultants, steering committees, and project proponents get this clear message - that parks are very special parcels of land and are given and worthy of these protections. This is a terrific example of the difference one knowledgeable and committed individual (with a bit of help from others, too) can have on our community. But the work must continue. I am sure I will see Sarah Hendley collecting more support from local residents and I will be there to help in any way that I can. Perhaps you can get involved in working for a better future too - there is plenty of work to go around. Any chance we can get PBS&J to provide their thoughts on the Route 250 Bypass at McIntire Road Interchange project that will (along with McIntire Road Extended) use a significant part of McIntire Park for a roadway and a federally funded Interchange.

Providing opportunities for the public to participate in projects like this is one of my key themes in my city council campaign. Meaningful public input shouldn't require effort of the magnitude provided by Sarah Hendley. If elected to council, I will work to bring all responsible members of the public into the conversation from beginning to end. I believe this is essential in finding the best solutions to our community's needs.

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