Clear-cutting at the Overlook

Issue: Disappointment and anger over clearcutting at a popular overlook.

Who is responsible?   (1) The citizens (voters) for not demanding a strategy for managing county-owned land. This would be included in the county comprehensive plan.  (2) County commissioners and council who appoint the majority of members to the Parks and Recreation Board. Commissioners also are responsible for ensuring that county attorneys review all contracts. (3) Parks and Recreation Board who oversee the management of the Parks and Rec Department.

A Way Ahead? Let’s just not forget and move on. Review the policies, processes, and timeline that contributed to the decision and the current situation, share results with the citizens, and make the appropriate changes to prevent a reoccurrence. For voters, include “what happens next” as part of the criteria you use in selecting candidates in the 2020 county elections.

Timeline

May 14, 2019Due to restrictions at logged site, tower may cost more A project to build a new communications tower on State Road 135 North has been delayed after the discovery of a deed that limits what can be done so close to the highway.

April 16, 2019. Overlook litigation still possible; Nature Conservancy makes offer to manage  Commissioner Diana Biddle told the audience at the April 3 commissioners meeting that the county had received a “threat of litigation” and correspondence from legal firms representing local property owners. … According to online court records, no lawsuit has been filed.

April 16, 2019.  Letter: Forestry organization: 135 logging was not a ‘clearcut’ A true clearcut is a harvest method sometimes used by professional foresters to regenerate a stand of trees while also providing diverse wildlife habitats across a given landscape. 

April 7, 2019. BCM – Facebook Post.  Additional research identified the clear-cutting was in violation of the terms identified in the transfer of the property from the state to Parks and Rec.

  • See “Commentary” below on the systemic nature of the issue.

March 18, 2019.  WTHR, Indianapolis. Residents, visitors raging over tree debate in Brown County, by Kevin Rader.  A debate is raging in Brown County over this. A clear cut of trees along State Road 135.

March 15, 2019Indiana Audubon Statement on Brown County Logging Cut  Since the news of the recent clear-cutting of a swath of property in Brown County reached the Indiana Audubon Society’s Stewardship Committee, we have been following the events that led up to this unfortunate error (made either on the part of those entrusted by the public with the scenic property there …  While our primary concern is for the area’s nature itself, we are also perplexed by the causation of the event. We feel the communication between the invested parties (Parks Board, logging contractors, and community members) was flawed. Factors include:

  1. There was undue haste to complete the project, ergo crossing a line into the appearance of impropriety.
  2. There were no efforts to seek out or accommodate public input prior to the action.
  3. The contract was not devised to insure the protection of wildlife habitat, nor the public trust. Seen holistically, this indicates an alarming degree of irresponsibility or at the least the appearance of such.
Feb 26, 2019. BCD. GUEST OPINION: Overlook clearing: ‘See what it will becomeBy DAN SHAVER, guest columnist

Feb 13, 2019. BCD.  Residents wonder what happened at overlook By Poor communication led to more trees being cleared than planned

Feb 4, 2019. Brown County Matters. by Cheryl Ferguson.  178 comments, 1 share as of 3/19/2019.  Has anyone else driven out 135 toward bean blossom.?There across the road from the overlook is a valley of hell, all trees removed deep into that valley. Will anyone come to brown county if the leaves don’t have trees to hang on come October? What about the erosion that haircut is going to cause. Anybody know what’s going on? 

COMMENTARY – “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

This incident is another example  on the results from ignorance on the importance of planning – a point reinforced by Ben Franklin – “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

“IF” you expect the efficient and effective use of county assets and tax dollars “THEN” each government office, board and commission need to have a basic plan. In the case of Parks and Rec, to develop a plan, you need to know what you can and cannot do with the land you have been deeded. 

Planning would prevent the crisis and initiative de jours which appears to be the preferred course of action as evidenced by the ad-hoc approach that is taken on major projects in the county by our single-party autocracy – Stellar, Maple Leaf, Bean Blossom Sewers, “Proposed” Justice Center, Salt Creek Trail (Highway Bridge)… 

The result of “ad-hoc”? The visual on the clear cutting of the overlook is pretty obvious. What is not so obvious yet is that the ad-hoc approach will be leading to higher property taxes which is great if you benefit from development and churn in the real estate market. Not so good if you are in the low to moderate income level where an increase in property taxes and cost of utilities is a hardship. 

Development may eventually lead to an increase in the tax base but more income often results in more government spending.

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