Highway Debate Dividing Communities

  • Landowners who are opposed to the beltway say no matter which route it follows, it'll be cutting through prime farmland. Proponents of the beltway say the highway is needed to support the already fast-growing suburbs. (Photo by Rebecca Williams)

As suburbs grow, politicians and city planners often promote new highways as a way to ease congestion and encourage more economic growth. Rebecca Williams reports on the struggle between local officials who want to encourage that growth and people who worry a new highway will fuel more sprawl:

Transcript

As suburbs grow, politicians and city planners often promote new highways as
a way to ease congestion and encourage more economic growth. Rebecca
Williams reports on the struggle between local officials who want to
encourage that growth and people who worry a new highway will fuel more
sprawl:


The Census Bureau says commutes to work are getting longer in the nation’s
biggest cities. Demographers say that’s because people are moving
out farther and farther from their jobs in search of more house for the
money or a quieter way of life. More people moving out to the fringes of the suburbs
means more pressure on two-lane roads and more congestion.


New highways are one of the tools local officials reach for when traffic
gets worse. People living in the fast-growing suburbs west of Chicago have
been debating a proposed new highway nicknamed the Prairie Parkway. The
four-lane beltway would connect these outer suburbs.


Jan Carlson is the Transportation Commissioner for Kane County, about 40
miles from downtown Chicago. He’s been looking forward to the beltway since
plans were unveiled five years ago:


“If you listen to the complaints, as I do, of people stuck in traffic and if
you consider the many economic advantages that moving that traffic brings to
us, it appears to me that the greater good is to move forward with the
project.”


Carlson says he knows new highways can rapidly speed up development in an
area, but he points to census data that show his county and others nearby
are already among the fastest-growing in the nation without a new highway:


“I am not one of those who subscribes to the theory that if you don’t build
it, they will not come.”


Jan Carlson says the new highway will make the local economy stronger,
bringing in much needed jobs to the suburbs, but many people are strongly opposed to the
beltway. Marvel Davis lives on a farm that’s been in her family for 170 years. Some of
her farmland lies within a corridor that the state has set aside for the proposed beltway.


“I tell people that’s the way sprawl happens. You think, well I’ve lost
that field to the farm, so the first guy that comes along and offers you
$50,000 an acre, your temptation is going to be pretty great, isn’t it?”


Davis says even though construction on the beltway isn’t expected to begin
until 2009, she’s seen a lot of new buildings spring up. She says it’s true
the area’s already growing, but she thinks the prospect of a new highway
might be encouraging more growth:


“So which comes first, the chicken or the egg? If word goes forth this
road’s going to happen and you come in with all kinds of developers, it’s
almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy.”


And urban planners agree it really is a chicken and egg relationship. It’s
hard to say which comes first. Highways speed up the pace of growth. And
growth causes a need for more highways.


Bill Klein is the director of research with the American Planning
Association. He says new highways do ease traffic congestion, but only for
a short time, before those highways get packed with people driving out to
their new homes in the suburbs.


“It’s very difficult to build your way out of sprawl. The more highways you
build, the more sprawl you get. Intellectually we’ve known this stuff for a
good long time but sometimes the political will to do anything about it is
the bigger problem.”


In the case of the Prairie Parkway, there is a political heavyweight in the
parkway’s corner. US House Speaker Dennis Hastert has been promoting the
concept of an outer beltway in his district since he went to Congress in the
late 1980’s. Just last year, Speaker Hastert earmarked 207 million dollars
for the beltway in the federal transportation bill.


Landowner Marvel Davis suspects the beltway might not go forward if it
weren’t for the Speaker’s support. She says if someone could show her the
beltway was in the country’s best interest, she’d support it.


“But if I’m going to lose my farm and my community to make a few people
multimillionaires then I’m not willing to do it.”


Marvel Davis says she knows she could make a lot of money if she sold her
land to developers, and she did actually sell more than 100 acres recently.
But she sold it to her county’s forest preserve for half of what she could
get from a developer.


Even though it’s years away, the promise of a new highway is sharply
dividing these communities. Whether or not they see growth as a good thing,
almost everyone agrees a new highway will speed up the pace of that growth.


For the Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.

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Locavores Sprout New Way of Eating

  • Holley duMond's daughter Zoe enjoys a local harvest. (Photo courtesy of Holley duMond)

Eating grapes and green beans in winter isn’t all that
novel. We’re used to buying whatever we feel like all year
round. But some people are rejecting what’s convenient.
They’re going on a diet that means they can’t get what they
need from the supermarket. The GLRC’s Rebecca
Williams explains:

Transcript

Eating grapes and green beans in winter isn’t all that novel. We’re used to
buying whatever we feel like all year round. But some people are rejecting
what’s convenient. They’re going on a diet that means they can’t get what
they need from the supermarket. The GLRC’s Rebecca Williams explains:


When the snow flies, most of us will trudge to the store in heavy coats.
But Holley duMond will just be walking out to her freezer.


(Sound of footsteps and freezer opening)


“These are our fruits, we eat a ton of blueberries throughout the winter.
And all of that is ratatouille and then there’s corn. And then underneath here is the
beginning of our meat stores for the winter, but that will fill up to the
top.”


Holley duMond has her hands full. She and her husband have busy jobs and a
3 year old daughter. They also have a basement full of mason jars. As the
Michigan harvests come in, they spend four days a week buying locally-grown
cherries and sweet corn and squashes, and chopping and cooking and canning.


duMond says yeah, sometimes people call them crazy. But she’s proud that
even in the winter, her family gets half of their diet from local sources.


Holley duMond says at first, she just felt local food would be fresher and
healthier. Then, she says she learned how far most food travels. Some
recent studies say your average piece of produce travels 1500 miles from
field to store. duMond says she worries about the environmental costs of
shipping lettuce from California, or apples from New Zealand or China.


“We do believe that every dollar that we spend is a vote, and so I think politically
we’re helping to change some of the bigger systems that we just don’t like
and don’t appreciate.”


duMond says for her family, it’s been a gradual shift. They eat local meat
and produce but they still drink coffee and eat chocolate that’s shipped in
from far away.


But some local eaters make food buying sound like an Olympic contest. James
Mackinnon and his partner Alisa Smith spent a year on what they call the
100-Mile Diet.


“We were absolutely 100% hardcore about it by the end. In our house and
crossing our plates, by the end of last year there was absolutely nothing
that hadn’t been produced from within 100 miles.”


And that means every meal, every glass of wine, every spice, except for
salt. The couple started their experiment during a long cold spring in
their Vancouver apartment. Their first attempts didn’t exactly work out.
They ate potatoes and turnips and kale. They lost 15 pounds in six weeks.
They pulled all-nighters canning hundreds of pounds of vegetables.


But Mackinnon says things really started to turn around. Their 100-mile
diet grew rich on trout and salmon, fuzzy melon, wild mushrooms and
pumpkin-flower honey.


“A whole year of eating unprocessed foods made from scratch, picked at their
seasonal peak. We felt fantastic for the entire year. The year of the 100-Mile Diet was almost certainly the most diverse diet I’ve ever eaten.”


Mackinnon says he found nearby farmers growing delicious rare varieties of
tomatoes and apples that wouldn’t be economical for supermarkets to sell.


The ranks of local eaters are growing. A similar group of 100-mile eaters
sprung up independently in San Francisco. They call themselves “locavores,” as in local
and omnivore.


And there are the 80 thousand members of Slow Food, a movement to defend traditional
foods and ways of cooking. They’re all firing back against one-stop shopping, but these
people say being truly devoted to local food is like an extra part-time job.


That’s because our food systems are not designed to be local. Rich Pirog
heads up the marketing and food systems program at the Leopold Center for
Sustainable Agriculture. He says after World War II, farmers were
encouraged to expand and specialize in just a couple of products such as
corn and soybeans:


“We’ve seen our food system become more specialized, food is traveling
farther distances, and as we have moved into the last two decades, we’ve
seen that shift to be even more global.”


Pirog says chances are, your supermarket apples are more likely to come from
China than your local orchard. He says pushing back against the global food
system is no easy feat, but he doesn’t think most locavores want to cut off
global trade:


“But what they’re advocating is, I would say, is an incremental approach where
in season we provide more of the food that we are able to grow.”


Pirog says reviving 10 to 20 percent of local food sources could boost local
economies.


So, locavores near you are canning food instead of buying cans because they
think it might just be better tasting and it might be better for the earth.


For the GLRC, I’m Rebecca Williams.

Related Links

LOCAVORES SPROUT NEW WAY OF EATING (Short Version)

There’s a trend among some food buyers. People are
signing up for a diet that means they can’t get what they need
from the supermarket. The GLRC’s Rebecca Williams
explains:

Transcript

There’s a trend among some food buyers. People are signing up for a diet
that means they can’t get what they need from the supermarket. The GLRC’s Rebecca
Williams explains:


These people are setting out to eat only foods that are grown and produced
near their homes. A lot of times that means tropical fruit, chocolate and
coffee are off limits.


Writers James Mackinnon and Alisa Smith went on what they call the 100-Mile
Diet for an entire year. The couple wanted to challenge themselves to eat a
diet more friendly to the environment.


“Are we doing greater environmental good by eating out-of-season organic
apples from New Zealand in the winter? I would argue that that’s not a
compromise we need to make.”


Mackinnon says he worries about wasting energy by transporting food from far
away.


Farm researchers at Iowa State University say there are two opposing trends
at work. There are more people demanding locally grown food, but at the
same time, imports of produce from countries such as China continue to grow
steadily.


For the GLRC, I’m Rebecca Williams.

Related Links

States to Have Bigger Enforcement Role?

The Bush Administration wants to shift more of the job of enforcing environmental laws to the states. The Environmental Protection Agency proposes to give states twenty-five million dollars to do the job. However, environmentalists, the General Accounting Office and even the EPA’s own Office of Inspector General find problems with the plan. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham has more:

Transcript

The Bush administration wants to shift more of the job of enforcing environmental laws to the states. The Environmental Protection Agency proposes to give states 25-million dollars to do the job. However, Environmentalists, the General Accounting Office and EVEN the EPA’s own Office of Inspector General find problems with the plan. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports.


Although the EPA is responsible for enforcement of national environmental laws, in most cases it assigns much of that authority to the states. Already 44 state environmental agencies act as the enforcement agency for the EPA. Now in its fiscal year 2002 budget, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Administrator, Christie Todd Whitman, proposes cutting the agency’s staff and giving more money to the states to enforce environmental laws. This move would only shift a little more of that burden to the states.


Some members of Congress have been pushing for shifting many of the federal government’s enforcement duties to the state level, arguing that the people at the state level are more attuned to the effects that strictly enforcing regulatory laws can have on the local economy.


The EPA has found that’s sometimes true. But in considering the economic impact, the state regulators don’t always enforce the law the way the EPA wants it to be done and that can be bad for the environment. Eileen McMahon is with the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General.


“We have –going back to 1996– been doing reviews and evaluations of different areas of enforcement, air enforcement, water enforcement, other enforcement and have found, certainly, cases where the states could be doing a better job.”


In a report released just last month the EPA’s Inspector General found that while some states have great records at enforcing environmental laws. But in many other cases some states have simply looked the other way.


“We found that states’ concerns with regulating small and economically vital businesses and industries had an impact on whether or not they were effectively deterring non-compliance.”


Some environmental groups are not surprised by those findings. Elliot Negin is with the Natural Resources Defense Council. He says he wouldn’t expect much good to come from letting states take more responsibility for enforcing environmental laws.


“Well, it’s gonna open a whole can of worms. The states, many states have pretty bad track records when it comes to upholding environmental laws. And, the state politicians are, unfortunately, sometimes too close to the polluters through campaign contributions and what not.”


Despite those concerns, some members of Congress feel the US EPA has been too aggressive in its application of environmental laws, and that shifting more of the enforcement authority to the states would bring a certain measure of common sense to the process.


As, the two sides argue about the merits of enforcing environmental laws at the federal level or the state level. One government office says no decision should be made at all just yet. The General Accounting office says the states and the EPA should take stock of how things are working now.


The GAO just released a report that finds cutting staff at the federal level and shifting resources to the state level — in other words, just what EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whittman is proposing— is premature. John Stephenson is the Director of Natural Resources and Environment for the GAO. He says the EPA has no idea how many people it takes to properly enforce the law because its workforce plan is more than a decade old.


“And, so, that’s basic information you would need to determine, number one, how many enforcement personnel that the states might need and number two how many personnel EPA headquarters might need to oversee the states.”


The GAO’s Stephenson says until some kind of workforce assessment is done. There‚Äôs little point in debating whether the EPA or the states are better suited to enforce environmental laws.


“This shift in authority, as you know, is an ongoing debate in the Congress and we feel like that there needs to be this basic workforce analysis done before either side is in a position to support their relative positions.”


The EPA agreed with the General Accounting Office’s findings. But it’s unclear whether there’s enough time to assess the agencies and states’ workforce needs before Congress approves the budget that could shift some of the enforcement authority to the states.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

STATES TO HAVE BIGGER ENFORCEMENT ROLE? (Short Version)

The Bush Administration is proposing the Environmental Protection Agency turn over more of its enforcement authority to the states. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham explains:

Transcript

The Bush administration is proposing the Environmental Protection Agency turn over more of its enforcement authority to the states. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports.


In the fiscal year 2002 budget, EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whittman proposes cutting agency staff who enforce environmental laws and in their place giving states additional money to do that job. Some environmental groups say that’s a bad idea because some states have a terrible track record on enforcing environmental laws. Eileen McMahon is with the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General. That office reports states sometimes look the other way.


“We found that the state enforcement programs could be much more effective in the deterrence and non-compliance of permits.”


The Inspector General says sometimes the states don’t enforce the law when the business is vital to the local economy. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.