The fate of the Fulton County land use plan is uncertain after the Land Planning Committee and Quorum Court meetings at the Fulton County Courthouse May 8.
The Land Use Planning Committee met before and after the Quorum Court meeting to discuss the plan with the public, discussion which became a heated exchange at times.
The Quorum Court tabled the Comprehensive Land Use Plan ordinance, which was to have its second reading, at the request of the committee so they could get further input from the public.
Committee members Bob Wood of Mammoth Spring and Mary Rivera of Gepp told those gathered that the land use plan is to make sure government agencies will come to the quorum court whenever they decide to make changes in regulations.
"The first hurdle that needs to be cleared is that we need to be convinced we need one," Robert Windsor of Salem said.
"The land plan will give us a seat at the table," Wood said. "If the county doesn't have one, the federal or state government will make one for us."
"We are a watchdog committee. If we hear something contrary to the plan, we let the county know," Wood said.
Rivera and Wood acknowledged that a land use plan could not stop federal or state governments from passing new regulations in the county.
Wood, whose family owns approximately 1,100 acres along the Spring River, said government agencies have taken riverfront land from owners before, putting the residents off and turning it into a wildlife reserve. He said this has already happened on the Buffalo River and Eleven Point River.
Wood said he had his own experience with government encroachment. He said he has been reported for crossing the Spring River in a tractor, even though he owned the land on both sides of the river. He said he was told he'd have to have a permit to cross.
"You might not see it yet, but places in this county have seen it," he said.
"If you have a land use plan, when government agencies want to make regulations they have to come to the quorum court" Rivera said.
"You say the federal government and state agencies have to go through the quorum court; what about the owners?" Dale Goodson of Salem asked.
"It requires agencies to consider us part of the environment," Rivera said, explaining that the plan would make the people of the county part of the human environment, which she said should be protected too.
"I don't doubt the intent of the court, but I haven't asked for help," Windsor told the committee. "We have a document that appears to give power and authority to people without our consent," he said.
Windsor said he thinks there will be misinterpretations in the future and that the land use plan might be used against the property owners even though it's meant to protect them, due to its vagueness.
"Everyone in my store interpreted it negatively. Intention should be spelled out in the document. We shouldn't have to ask what something means," said Christi Shaver, co-owner of Shaver's Plumbing in Salem.
"We're not professional writers. New JPs could disband us and trash the land use plan," Wood said.
"How can you be specific on every issue? They're not setting laws; they've got to be somewhat vague," Christine Mosier of Fulton County said.
"Do you have enough copies of the plan for the people who show up? Where is the money going to come from if you can't afford what's printed? How will you pay for it?" Shaver asked.
"We're unpaid volunteers; we have to do this ourselves," Rivera said.
"The attorney general said it has to go through the people," Goodson said, calling for a countywide vote on the plan.
Rivera and Wood said they do not have the authority for that.
"What we created is not legislative law, it says who we are," Wood said.
"We are to our limit. We've spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to protect this county. If we do not get a citizen-made land use plan, we'll get an agency-made land use plan," Rivera said.
Residents raised concerns over government funds that come into the county from the Department of Conservation. Some members of the audience thought it would cost farmers money.
Rivera and Wood said they would work with the Department of Conservation on a land use plan if the department wishes to do so.
The discussion heated up when residents said the plan could lead to landowners having to go through the committee whenever they wanted a grant or other government money.
"You're lying through your teeth, Mary," said Tom Gentry of Salem before walking out of the meeting.
Residents also gave statements during the Fulton County Quorum Court meeting.
"We elected you guys," Shaver told the court. "We don't want to come to meetings; we elected you to take care of us." She said she kept getting referred to Rivera every time she had a problem with the land use plan and asked why the members of the court couldn't answer it themselves.
Karrol Fowlks of Salem said the land use plan adds another layer of bureaucracy. He said grants from the government have brought millions into the county to assist land owners.
"My land is going to be overseen by the quorum court? I have a problem with that. We don't want it and we don't need it," he said.
"You can't tell them (the government) to come to our meetings. There's not a grant out there that you have to take," Gentry said.
"Non-governmental organizations are unelected. They move in on agencies and get what they want," Mosier said. She said the organizations do not bother getting the consent of the people when they want something done.
"It sounds like we're fighting ghosts," Luis Covas of Viola said.
"We'd like people with legitimate complaints to work with us. At the last minute everyone shows up with misconceptions," Rivera said. She said the county will get a land use plan either way, either from the people or from an agency.
"If the people don't want us to write a plan, I don't guess we will," Wood said.
"There will come a time when they wish this had been done," Rivera said.