[Nameplate] Fair ~ 47°F  
High: 77°F ~ Low: 55°F
Friday, May 6, 2016

Land use plan raises questions

Thursday, May 4, 2006

The plan has language which some residents find troubling

The Comprehensive Land Use Plan for Fulton County has ignited a controversy among the residents of the county.

Some residents think that the plan is an attempt by county government to increase its power over the people of the county, while those who worked on the plan say the intent is to preserve property rights.

The plan, which is available for reading at the libraries in the county, has language which some residents find troubling. Christi Shaver, co-owner of Shaver's Plumbing in Salem, has been encouraging people to read the ordinance for themselves and said no one she has spoken to is in favor of the ordinance.

According to state Rep. Curren Everett, who was county judge during the time the land plan was drafted, the plan's purpose is not to control people. "The intent was to protect landowners of Fulton County and the heritage of the county," he said.

Everett gave an example of an imaginary landowner who has a fence 100 feet from a stream. If the state comes in and tells him he has to move it back to 300 feet, then the county would work to protect his water right, within county guidelines.

Everett sent a letter to Arkansas Attorney General Mike Beebe last year. "I was asking him to look over the land plan and say what he thought," Everett said.

Beebe wrote: "Some of the language is problematic, in my view, in suggesting that the county is seeking to compel action by state and federal agencies."

Beebe said the land use plan's precise intent is unclear, adding that he is unaware of any basis in the law for the county to impose such requirements on the state or federal government.

Beebe added that he had several potential issues regarding the Land Use Committee, which the plan states will be made up by appointed local citizens. He said the plan clearly envisions for the committee to be involved in developing and implementing land planning, management and regulation, but does not go into further detail on the role or function of the committee.

Beebe said the citizen committee is not necessarily problematic but greater insight into the exact powers and functions of the committee would be necessary to conclusively decide the matter. He said the quorum court cannot legislate contrary to state laws which regulate planning.

Land Planning Committee member Mary Rivera of Gepp said the attorney general's office doesn't have anyone who specializes in environmental law. "It does not require the county to do anything. They (outside agencies) are bound by the edicts of the national Environmental Protection Act to come to the quorum court when they want to do something that could change our way of life. If we have a land plan they are bound by law to come to our elected officials and tell them what they are going to do."

"We did a lot of research to make sure we're doing this right," Rivera said. Rivera said she got an opinion from Karen Budd-Falen of the Bud-Falen Law Firm in Cheyenne, Wyo., about how NEPA would apply to the county and said the law favored the land plan.

Rivera said Budd-Falen is the highest regarded environmental property rights firm in the country. Rivera said the attorney from the agency was paid through private funds from citizens, not the public.

She said Randall Mathis of the Department of Environmental Quality also said the land plan is within legal bounds.

Mathis said the adoption of a county land use plan which requires state and federal government to provide up-front information of their plans in the county is appropriate and legal.

One paragraph which has raised concern among some residents states, "Due to our close tie to the earth as a means of income, it is historical that the way of life for most residents includes disturbing the soil. This includes but is not limited to: tilling, grading and mowing, all of which create dust particles."

Robert Windsor of Salem expressed concern over the intention of the statement, wondering if it means that activities like bush-hogging, mowing and tilling will be restricted.

Committee member James Nicholson of Saddle said the paragraph has to do with environmental groups who try to regulate how property owners take care of the soil on their land. He said the intent is to say landowners have the right to till, grade or mow their own land without permission, as they always have.

"Dust is a naturally occurring thing. In rural communities we have a lot of dirt," Rivera said. She said watershed project supporters, which are projects that encompass private property without input from the owners, and other entities, such as the Department of Environmental Quality, would like to do away with unpaved roads because they stir up a lot of dirt. She said they're not going after the cities, they're going after rural communities.

"The land plan is about protecting the way of life of people in rural areas," she said.

"What are their qualifications to do what they're going to do?" Shaver asked. Shaver, who has a well license accepted in the whole state, asked if this means game wardens and others licensed by the state are going to be expected to answer to the Quorum Court too.

Nicholson said the land plan has nothing to do with licensing. He said there is nothing about requiring county licenses in the land plan.

"We're not wanting to knock farmers out of funds; it's not intended to do that. Soil and Water put a lot of money into Fulton County," Everett added.

"Why are they trying to pass it without alerting the public? I don't see how you can be voted into office and take more power," Shaver said.

Everett said there is no attempt to fly the land plan under the radar of Fulton County residents. He said the seven-member committee held public meetings about the land plan before every quorum court meeting during his last year as judge.

The land plan has been available at the libraries in the county since last year, according to Nicholson.

Rivera said the land plan is what the land committee has been mainly focusing on at its meetings and they have been working on it a number of years. She said the meetings are open to the public but are seldom attended.

"The people writing this in suspicion of the state and federal governments expect me to trust them instead? If we're going to be suspicious of them, why would we trust the people in our own county?" Shaver asked.

"The land plan gives them power and authority without spelling out what those powers are," Windsor said.

"It's very vague in its translating. It should be wrote more in layman's terms so residents can understand it," Goodson said.

"Local power and authority can change easier than state and federal authority," Rivera said. She said local officials, unlike other government officials, have to live with the people they represent. She added that the ordinance does not give the county any more power which it doesn't have by law.

"I don't need another rule or regulation between me and what I'm going to do on my land," Shaver said.

Nicholson said the land plan is misunderstood. "It's a friend of property owners. It's to ensure the rights of property owners," he said. "There's no zoning or anything all about it."

According to Everett, the land plan would make the quorum court mediators in conflicts between state or federal governments and residents of Fulton County.

"We just want our children to have the same rights we have. We want to protect the property rights of people in the county," Nicholson said.

Shaver said she is also concerned about the ordinance's proposed publication in The News, which does not have a stand in Mammoth Spring though it is in Fulton County. She said unless it is published in The South Missourian News, which is circulated in Mammoth Spring, one-third of Fulton County could be left uninformed. The News is available at the Mammoth Spring Library and the offices of The South Missourian News in Thayer.

Everett said the version being considered by the quorum court is a new version. "We need to do a study on it and gather more information," he said.

The second reading of the Fulton County Land Plan will be at the next Fulton County Quorum Court meeting in the Fulton County Courthouse in Salem on May 8. Fulton County Judge Charles Willett said the public is welcome to come ask their questions there.

The land planning committee meeting is also May 8 in the courthouse at 6 p.m. Rivera said anyone who wants to talk about the land plan can come with their questions.

"We just want our children to have the same rights we have. We want to protect the property rights of people in the county," Nicholson said.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: