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Why All the Fuss?

First in a Series of Continuing Articles

A few months ago, the Sweet Grass Council for Community Integrity locked horns with the Dornix Park advocates.  The obvious reasons were the outrageous expenditures that were planned and the stealthy method of spending Big Timber’s money.  There were other motivations the SGCCI suspected, but were confused about.  Now we see a little more clearly.

In June of 2009, the current Washington administration created a new bureaucracy called the Partnership for Sustainable Communities (PSC) which is jointly operated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  Talk about too many cooks in the kitchen!  Five billion dollars has already been spent.  The funding for this hodge-podge of bureaucracies comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (so called stimulus money).  What is the intent?  They say “it is time that federal dollars stopped encouraging sprawl and started lowering the barriers to the kind of sustainable development our country needs and communities want” and to “expedite implementation of livability principles through local zoning and land use law changes that remove sustainability barriers.”  This is government gobble-de-gook at its’ finest.

To put their plan into action, the Partnership for Sustainable Communities (PSC) offers grants to qualifying communities.  Money is the bait.   There are always some members of a community or local government who will apply for any grant regardless of who is providing the grant or what conditions are attached.  This is why the PSC says “communities want it.”  Sure, what some want is the money and the control it brings.  We have been well conditioned to respond when there is a call to the feed trough.

In order to be eligible to apply for these grants, the first, mandatory step is for local government agencies to create a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).  An MPO creates a federal governing structure that is capable of superceding the regulatory authority of all locally elected or appointed entities, including County and City governments.  If a city of over 50,000 wants federal transportation funding, it must have a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).   This new bureaucracy has been created by the federal government in order to “champion a shared vision”, and to ensure city and county planning and codes comply with federal requirements.  The control point is that the Montana Department of Transportation (MDOT) which is responsible for distributing federal transportation funds, will not provide any tax money to local governments unless the city or county is in compliance with a federally written and controlled grant.

Here is where the Partnership for Sustainable Communities exercises it’s power.  If a community does not comply with the above mentioned requirements, the PSC can withhold federal transportation dollars.  We have only seen the surface of the requirements.  There are undoubtedly more profound depths.  As an example, the Billings area has an MPO and has applied for a PSC grant.  Annually allocated federal transportation funds for Billings and Yellowstone County are $8.4 million not including $41 million in earmarked funds.  (Think politicians won’t take advantage of this power?  Remember Schweitzer’s failed blackmail scheme?)

Here is what a PSC grant does:

1) Coordinates land use, housing, transportation and infrastructure planning processes across jurisdictions and agencies. Billings will control and coordinate at 27 county region which just so happens to be the counties surrounding Yellowstone Park (including Wyoming and Idaho counties).

2) Identifies potential regional partnerships for developing and implementing a comprehensive regional plan

3) Conducts or updates housing, infrastructure, transportation, energy and environmental assessments to determine regional needs and promote sustainable development

4) Develops or updates:

A. a comprehensive regional plan: or

B. goals and strategies to implement an existing comprehensive regional plan

5) Mandates local zoning and other code changes necessary to implement a comprehensive regional plan and promote sustainable development.

By accepting these grants, local governments abandon their ability to govern themselves because each aspect of the grant is created, monitored and enforced by the federal government.  “Smart Growth” or sustainable development, sometimes called “comprehensive planning”, is a threat to freedom of choice, private property rights, mobility and local governance.  It creates centralized control of most aspects of human activity: energy, health, food, water, transportation, housing, resources, recycling, “social justice”, land use, growth, population control and education.

America is going to have to organize locally.  Rural Americans need to see the big picture and understand the dangers of Smart Growth, Sustainable Development, Metropolitan Planning Organizations and the entire host of sweet sounding, seductive but freedom destroying bureaucracies.     The tentacles of the beast are so numerous and complicated that we can easy be cowered into inaction.  Yet we must know who would compromise our liberty if we hope to continue enjoying our individual rights and responsibilities while thriving in a free, prosperous America.

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