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An update from the Steering Committee

On Tuesday September 8th, the Washington County Reserves Coordinating Committee voted 11-2 to forward their recommendation to designate 34,100 acres of prime farmland as Urban Reserves.  The recommendation still includes a large part of the farming and cultural community of Helvetia.  We were pleased to see that Commissioner Andy Duyck understood that this recommendation does nothing to protect farmland and joined with the Farm Bureau in voting "no".

While we were extremely disappointed with the outcome, it was not unexpected.  The 16-member Committee, comprised not of citizens, but of elected officials, had this outcome clearly in mind from the beginning.  The Committee solicited "growth aspirations" from cities (which they accepted without any meaningful evaluation), but not from farmers.  Well over 1000 letters and signatures were delivered to the Committee expressing tremendous public support for preserving farmland, including the areas north of Highway 26.  The August 20th public hearing was dominated by testimony and attendees expressing the same message.  It made no difference. 

But all is not lost.  In fact, the real discussion is just beginning.  The process now moves to the regional level, where the Metro Council and the 30-member Reserves Steering Committee will spend until October 15th reviewing the recommendations from each County and making urban reserves recommendations to the "Core 4".  We are optimistic that the Council, RSC, and the Core 4 will understand that agriculture is a stable and essential part of a thriving regional economy, and that urbanizing 25% of Washington County's world-class farmland and failing to protect another 20% (by leaving it undesignated) makes no sense whatsoever.

We were pleased to read the September 15th report from Metro's Chief Operating Officer recommending that urban reserves NOT go north of Highway 26.  And Metro Councilor Robert Liberty's most recent newsletter shows that he "gets it".  So we are encouraged, but we must continue to put our message before these committees.

Going forward, we ask each of you to renew and intensify your outreach efforts.  We are setting a new goal of 2000 letters and signatures by October 15th.  With almost 1200 so far, we believe that with your help we can easily reach this goal.  Please continue to reach out to people who have not submitted testimony or signed petitions.  Consider attending or testifying at the upcoming meetingsHelp us locate events where we can reach large numbers of new supporters.

The Steering Committee is deeply gratified by all of the dedication you have demonstrated so far.  Now it is time to take our message to the REAL leaders of our region: those who have the wisdom and foresight to see that farmland – including Helvetia, the gem of Washington County – has lasting value and is deserving of the protection that only Rural Reserves can provide.

Thank you,

The Save Helvetia Steering Committee
September 23rd, 2009

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