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Joyce Endee

Citizens group opposed to accepting federal grant for Union Meadows

December 13, 2012
WAKEFIELD — A group of citizens, gathered after hours at a local restaurant, sparked by a local concern, considered its global meaning, and then brought it back down to the local level and decided on a plan of action.

That was the C.R.O.W. (Concerned Residents of Wakefield) meeting held Dec. 3 at the Good and Tasty Restaurant in downtown Sanbornville. About a dozen people gathered for the monthly meeting to have a roundtable discussion about planning; local, regional, state, and federal concepts; and the impact planning decisions could have on future generations.

What sparked the discussion is the town's plan to accept $135,000 in grants to preserve 121 acres of Union Meadows. The town's Conservation Commission negotiated the deal and its Chairman Dave Mankus secured an $85,000 grant from N.H. Fish and Game and a $50,000 grant from LCHIP (Land and Community Heritage Investment Program) to pay most of the cost of the $150,000 purchase price. Now at least two of those commission members have had a change or heart. Commission member Relf Fogg, who voted in favor of accepting the grants and the conservation easement attached to the Fish and Game grant, regrets that decision now and said he was on the flip side and is "now on the flop side."

Wakefield resident Jerry O'Connor said proposed projects like this are just the federal government's way of trying to push Agenda 21, the United Nations nonbinding sustainable development platform. Agenda 21 got its real start during the Earth Summit in Brazil in 1992. Since 1992 178 countries have signed on to Agenda 21. Opponents say the plan, which promotes land use planning and walkable communities, eliminates property rights.

To implement the Agenda 21 plan, International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) was formed. According to their website at www.iclei.org, their mission is to "promote local action for global sustainability and support cities to become sustainable, resilient, resource-efficient, biodiverse, low-carbon; to build smart infrastructure; and to develop an inclusive, green, urban economy. The ultimate aim is to achieve healthy and happy communities." Four New Hampshire towns are members of ICLEI – Keene, Nashua, Portsmouth, and Wolfeboro.

While having clean, walkable, communities sounds like a good idea, opponents argue that government is slowly taking control of local communities and conserving property to the point nothing will be left for future generations.

"Regional planning commissions are a vehicle to get the word out – their ideas have been embraced by the United Nations in what is also called sustainable development – includes putting mass populations into certain areas while leaving other areas open for preservation. What you realize is it not our nation making decisions but a group of nations making decisions for us," said Fogg.

Regarding the Union Meadows project, O'Connor said, "I have problems with it on a few levels. Seems to coincide with what some people call Agenda 21. Setting up wildlife corridors, setting aside tracts of land for eternity seems pretty drastic to me to take property off the market for generations just because we think right now it's a good idea. There is a lot of information out there about what is going on. We got this country and there was a certain amount of land we could work with to exercise our rights and our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness and if we put hundreds of thousands of acres off limits to the future generations we are infringing on their rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness…You don't have to take the land off the market for eternity to protect water. There are certainly more reasonable ways to protect water. It would be like a Monopoly game and when everybody was done with the property they kept it so when someone else came along there would be no property left."

O'Connor said that 44 percent of property in Wakefield is classified as current use for taxation purposes. Current use assessment allows a property owner to take 10 or more acres and agree not to develop it in exchange for a reduction in their property tax bill. If the property owner decides later to develop the property, they pay a stiff penalty when the property is taken out of current use – 10 percent of the current assessed market value of the portion of the property they plan to develop.

Currently, that penalty, also known as Land Use Change Tax, is deposited into a fund that can be used by Wakefield Conservation Commission to purchase property. In other towns across the state, voters have decided to treat collected land use change tax the same way Wakefield does while others have decided to deposit only a percentage or none at all into their conservation funds.

Throughout the evening's two-hour discussion, two words seemed to raise the ire of those in attendance – sustainability and perpetuity.

One audience member said that patching together easements from town to town, easements owned by the federal government, takes away local control of land in New Hampshire communities, in perpetuity – forever.

Of those in attendance who spoke to the issue, the majority seemed in favor of the town purchasing the property but only if the townspeople get a chance to vote for it on the town meeting warrant in 2013 and if the project can be accomplished using a combination of taxpayer money and LCHIP funds, declining to accept the NH Fish and Game funds which are federal grant funds administered by that department. They also voiced the opinion that easements can be placed on the property with the town of Wakefield retaining control over what does and doesn't happen to the property now and in the future, with no outside agencies holding an easement restricting the townspeople.

"I may be really naïve here because I'm pretty young but I'm getting older. No one in this town, especially on the Conservation Commission is purchasing this land to support Agenda 21 – we had no idea what it was until Mr. (Ed) Comeau brought it to our attention." said Conservation Commission member Tom Dube. "It's a huge machine that's been going on a long time. They are educating our kids in college to be environmentalists instead of American workers. As a group here – how do we stop that machine and do some things about that? As far as the stuff going on in town, purchasing this property, I voted for it. We thought as a commission based on what we thought at the time and the best way we thought to purchase it to save it from development in the best way possible for the town to go along with it. As a group we were thinking about the town, not the huge picture. This is a small portion, a very small portion. That big machine didn't grow overnight and we're not going to stop it over night by stopping the sale of one piece of property in Wakefield. I think it is a great thing. I think everything should go to the voters."

Selectmen have the power to purchase property without a vote of the entire town meeting. And, it appears, Wakefield selectmen were prepared to do that. That was until, as reported by Editor Thomas Beeler in last week's Carroll County Independent, a petition with 58 signatures was presented to selectmen forcing them to put the proposed land purchase on the warrant instead.

At Monday's CROW gathering, the consensus appeared to be that another petition is going to be presented to the selectmen for inclusion on the warrant. The proposed warrant article will be, at least based on Monday's discussion is to have the town accept the LCHIP funds and match those with taxpayer dollars to meet the $150,000 purchase price.

Fogg thanked all who attended the CROW meeting. "Meetings like tonight help to find solutions. This is what open discussions can do. Without having them, people don't feel like they are an active part of the process, their opinions don't count, and something was jammed down their throat," he said.

The CROW meeting was videotaped and is available to watch in full at www.governmentoversite.com.

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