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Kathy Gagnon

Gateway Communities
By Kathy Gagnon
Nov 4, 2005 - 6:58:00 PM

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A recent town meeting ended with citizens comments effectively being silenced and the presence of cameras being relegated to the back of the room. This was done despite comments from some councilors and the public against doing this. It was a very sad day for this town and the rights of every citizen living here. This was done in the interest of “more orderly” meetings, we are told. I suppose this would be a valid issue if allowing citizens’ input in what decisions their elected officials are making is considered disruptive or if councilors believe that their decisions should be based on things other than what the citizens who elected them want for their town.

As for the cameras, at the previous meeting, only one councilor found them to be a problem. He received no support from any of the other councilors with his attempt to either have a workshop session on the subject or to agree with his accusations. It was rather amazing that only two weeks later, after turning down an offer to actually view the tapes, two other councilors make statements at the meeting and to the media that they now believe it is a problem and they had not noticed it until it was called to their attention.

Either way, the result of that meeting was to greatly lessen citizen input or participation at town meetings. With the inability to use our petition process as well, it seems citizens no longer have a say in their town government.

This is only the beginning. These same councilors and their MAGIC associates have already had our town designated as a “gateway community” without our knowledge or approval. They did this while acting in the guise of town representatives with the authority and approval to do so.

When their plans for us to be a gateway community come to fruition, we will have even less say in what happens to our town and the entire area.

Because of similar problems in areas with towns that have allowed themselves to become gateway communities, The Gateway Communities Cooperation Act (H. R. 1014) was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives by George Radanovich (R-California) and was designed to provide communities adjacent to public land a greater voice in discussing issues that affect their towns.

Primary opponents to this bill are the Sierra Club and the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). This bill would not allow gateway communities to have veto power, but would mandate that they be allowed to be represented when changes are proposed and discussed for the parks they are gateways to. Frequently, community leaders in gateway communities have been claiming they are not approached about important decisions until after they have already been made. Times when they are asked for public opinion, they are given their choice of two or three predetermined options without having had the opportunity to be involved in determining these options. Because of this, decisions having a direct affect on the lives and economy of their community are made with no input from them.

Does that sound familiar?

In testimony before the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation and Public Lands, spokespersons from the NPCA expressed concerns that the desires of surrounding communities aren’t in keeping with the mandate of the service to preserve our natural and cultural heritage in the national interest and for future generations. I assume this means they believe they are a better judge of what the natural and cultural heritage of these communities is and how they want it preserved. They also say that “the national parks are not in the least degree the special property of those who happen to live near them.” While they admit to understanding that those who reside in local communities around the parks believe they have a unique interest in the area and how it is managed, they state that “these communities need to be reminded that the parks belong to all Americans, not just those who have easy access to them.”

Steve Thomas, northern plains regional director for the Sierra Club, says he doesn’t believe communities adjacent to national parks need legislative action to be heard. He says he believes that those who reside near public land should not have a preferential voice nor have any right to be on the ground floor discussions more than any other citizen in the country.

While they put much importance on how community development decisions of gateway communities can impact adjacent national parks, they seem to have a disregard for how the park’s decisions impact the towns and people who reside in them. National Park officials state that they believe actions by local communities are not always in the best interests of their National Park neighbors, and therefore not always in the national interest. They seem to feel that the benefits of living at the “doorstep” to a national park where the citizens have “unparalleled opportunities to experience a piece of our nation’s natural or cultural heritage on a daily basis” is a privilege regardless of the fact that we have lived here all of our lives and the cultural heritage they speak of was created by our ancestors and kept alive through the years by those of us whom they wish to take it from.

Unfortunately, for these entities, gateway communities are essential to their parks. They are necessary to provide services to visitors. In return for relinquishing our rights, our land, our waterways, our clean air, quality jobs, and serenity, we are given the right to become servants to those who wish to visit our area and enjoy the places that we no longer can because they are overrun with an overwhelming number of tourists. many of whom do not care about the area as we do.

We have lived with tourism here for many years. Local businesses welcome their patronage and they do give a needed boost to the economy. We gladly share what we have with visitors to the area but have so far been able to maintain most of what we value about living here. Places such as Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor here in Maine have lost much of the small town things that they valued with the out of hand influx of tourism to their towns. Because of the number of tourists that visit, locals can no longer enjoy life as they once did. Traffic, crowds, noise, pollution and loss of privacy are a few problems that they must now deal with along with the rising costs of real estate, property taxes, and public services.

The town of West Yellowstone in Montana has officials and business owners claiming they have been shut out of discussions about whether snowmobiles should be allowed into the park or how many. They understand they can not dictate these decisions, but want only an opportunity to be heard in the decision making discussions since 75% of winter business for them is generated by snowmobile, snow-coach and cross-country skiing businesses. If, as the Bush administration’s commissioned $2.4 million study recommends, snowmobiles are phased out, the town’s economy would suffer greatly. All they want is an opportunity to have a voice in the decision, and they are not even being guaranteed that much.

Other gateway communities are finding traffic problems so overwhelming that they have had to develop tour bus systems to ease some of the traffic congestion problems. The traffic problems are not just congestion. Car exhaust, car noise, and parking along roads add to the problem.

These are issues we need to consider before casting our votes on November 8.

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