It was with great disappointment that I read that the Dawson County Commission had voted to notify the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that it opposes the Etowah Habitat Conservation Plan — an effort on the part of numerous local governments along the Etowah River to protect endangered fish species that live in the river and the creeks feeding it.
Unfortunately, in Dawson County the plan has been waylaid by mounds of misinformation and unsubstantiated claims.
Thankfully, other jurisdictions in the Etowah River Basin have rejected such propaganda and continue to support the HCP.
These leaders see the plan as a way to protect these fish, our drinking water and our property rights while still allowing for continued economic growth in what has been one of the fastest growing regions in the country.
To set the record straight, here are some facts about the HCP and the science that supports the listing of these fish-the Etowah, Cherokee and amber darters-on the Endangered Species List.
These fish are among the most studied in the state.
During the past six years, 13 scientific studies of these fish have been published in professional journals. In 2008, a panel of 16 national and international fisheries scientists concluded that these species are in imminent peril of becoming extinct.
Interestingly the calls of “bad science” are loudest from builders and developers. If you want to know about building homes, ask a developer; if you want to know about fish, ask a wildlife biologist.
Suggesting that the HCP is about federal control over local land use, as Sen. Chip Pearson has suggested, is an absurdity.
This plan was developed by local governments and other stakeholders, including developers. It actually takes control away from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), transferring it into the hands of local governments.
Currently, construction projects planned in the Etowah River basin must endure lengthy consultations with FWS. When local governments adopt the HCP, developers get their environmental permits from local governments, not the federal government.
Furthermore, adoption of the HCP and its ordinances is entirely optional. If Dawson County commissioners chose not to participate, they may do so.
Finally, suggesting that adoption of the HCP would “halt nearly all development” is fear mongering-plain and simple. The building ordinances outlined in the plan are, in some cases, a departure from our state’s “old-school” development practices, but these innovative approaches have been in place elsewhere and, in fact, are already being used here.
They won’t halt development, but they will insure that development is done in a way that protects other property owners, as well as our streams and the fish that live in them.
Dawson County is blessed-with a beautiful natural environment and what has been a healthy economy based largely on new construction. Adoption of the HCP would help preserve both of these blessings.
Hopefully, as the real facts about the HCP get to local leaders, Dawson County will reconsider the benefits of this common sense plan.
Executive director and Riverkeeper Coosa River Basin Initiative