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Ongoing crisis of no sense

POSTED: August 26, 2009 4:00 a.m.

Disclaimer: Though this is a serious issue with serious implications, large amounts of sarcasm are used in the following opinion. Sometimes it’s better to laugh than to cry.  Proceed at your own risk.

  We’re from the government, and we’re here to help.  

While the country is gripped in the worst recession in a generation, Georgia’s unemployment rate is above 10 percent, and Obama-Pelosi-Reed et al are trying to take over one-sixth of the economy, you would think your federal government would have little time for mischief and meddling. Think again.

  

While you’ve been working to feed your family and pay your taxes, while praying you still have a job tomorrow, your public servants at the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and their friends at UGA have squandered over $1.5 million on a program called the Etowah Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). 

  

An HCP is a plan that is often required by the FWS to protect endangered species under the Federal Endangered Species Act. The Etowah HCP would encompass over 940,000 acres in seven of the fastest-growing counties in Georgia. Its effects would be long-lasting and devastating to taxpayers and landowners. 

  

It would lower land values, increase construction costs, remove land use decisions from local elected officials, and increase burdens on already overwhelmed counties and the citizens whose property taxes pay to operate them. As you’ll see, it’s not about the fish.

  

This plan began around 2002, when folks at the UGA Odum School of Ecology and others thought an HCP project would be a good way to protect the Etowah darters. 

  

Now after six years, millions of dollars spent, minimal to no public comment or involvement, no feedback from landowners, and no scientific Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), we are at the official public comment period to see if this plan will be approved by the “Big FWS fish” in Washington, D.C.

  

Until now, landowners have paid consultants to draft and submit HCPs on their behalf for their property. If approved, the owner can do whatever he intends with his property. 

  

Occasionally, regional HCPs have been proposed or approved, mostly in the western states. If approved, the owner can do whatever he intends with his property. Yet the Etowah HCP has gone from a plan for one specific property to nearly a “Million Acres Rubber Stamp.”  It’s not about the fish.

  

The $ 7,200 fish

  

At least $1.5 million in taxpayer money has been spent on the Etowah HCP effort so far. If this HCP is approved, how much more will it cost us? That question is a moving target. 

  

According to the FWS, the costs would be minimal. Yet back in 2006, HCP supporters said the cost per acre was $3,000 to $5,000 per acre.

  

In fact, if you multiply the 940,000 acres by $5,000 per acre, that equals $4.7 billion. 

  

Dividing $4.7 billion by the approximately 650,000 fish the FWS thinks are in danger leaves you with $7,200 sushi.

  

Everyone will be forced to shoulder these costs.

  

Projects will cost more, developers will pay less for land, or both.

  

Counties, cities and the state will pay more for schools, roads and libraries.

  

In fact, you the taxpayer have already paid about $20,000 per acre or $2.5 million for ponds at the DOT intersection project at Georgia Hwy. 20 and I-575. 

 

There are also unknown costs related to long-term maintenance, as well as the $85 per acre that FWS says they need to manage this project going forward.

  The fox guarding the henhouse.  

Last session, the Georgia General Assembly passed two resolutions (SR 304, HR 578) urging the FWS to conduct the mandatory five-year review of endangered species and perform an EIS before reviewing the HCP.

  

Thankfully, many counties and cities are avoiding this boondoggle as they learn how little science is actually involved in the plan.

  

In fact, many counties and cities that previously were favorable to the plan are now reconsidering their support or are even pulling out. 

  

I encourage you to voice your opinion and tell your local officials and the FWS that the Etowah HCP, as written, should not be approved.

  

Address your letters to David Dell of FWS at 1875 Century Boulevard, Atlanta, GA 30345 or e-mail him at david_dell@fws.gov by Aug. 31, 2009.

  

Sen. Chip Pearson can be reached at (404) 656-9921 or via e-mail at chip.pearson@senate.ga.gov.

 

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