|Helmke to Senate: Brownfields Can Save Open Space, Offer Alternatives to
Mayor Expresses Support for "Better America Bonds"
By Kevin McCarty
Fort Wayne Mayor Paul Helmke led off two days of hearings on open space and environmental quality before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that "The best way to preserve open space is by redeveloping brownfields."
"We recycle glass, paper and aluminum cans, but we need to recycle our land," Helmke told the Senate March 17, speaking on behalf of the Conference as the Immediate Past President. Referencing liability issues and litigation spurred by the Superfund law, he said, "Federal policies have made brownfields redevelopment difficult."
Helmke discussed his views as the "front door" issues - those that citizens see when they open their front doors, not necessarily what is on the front pages of the newspapers - that are on the minds of people in his community. He also added that "Livability and sprawl are very important issues to all of us" and that voters are "very concerned about quality of life."
Describing the toll of urban development on the nations open space adjoining urban areas, Helmke cited data from the American Farmland Trust. "From 1982 - 1992, the United States converted four million of prime farmland to urban land ... an area larger than the States of Connecticut and Rhode Island." He cited Chicago Mayor Richard Daleys often used statement that "the U.S. destroys more farmland each year than any nation on earth."
"In the same 10-year period, all of the land which was developed, including this prime farmland, is equal in size to the States of Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware and one quarter of Maryland," Helmke told the panel. He also stated that "While there sure is a lot of land, particularly in the West, we need to be careful."
Following his opening remarks and those of Lancaster County, PA Commissioner Terry Kauffman, who heads the National Association of Counties Smart Growth Committee, Committee members, led by Committee Chairman John Chafee (RI), inquired extensively about the Administrations "Better America Bonds" proposal and related issues to assist local areas in preserving open space and redeveloping brownfields (see section below on Helmke Responds to Key Issues). Both local officials indicated support for the bond initiative to support open space preservation and brownfields redevelopment, urging the panel members to ensure that the final legislation support local priorities with the funds that are made available to communities.
In a lengthy statement provided to the record of the hearing which explained the Conferences views in more detail, Helmke highlighted several key issue areas, citing transportation issues, parks and the broader effects of federal policies on communities.
On transportation, he pointed out how transportation dollars have fueled sprawl and that mayors are concerned about public transportation and want more flexibility in the use of federal transportation funds. He said that "we need to get money directly to local officials."
Emphasizing the importance of parks to the improving the quality of life for citizens in their local communities, Helmke said that "we all love our National Parks, but what is crucial is the local park where most of us live."
He concluded his testimony, stating that "the Federal Government has created some of these problems in the past" and commended the panel for holding the hearings.
Commissioner Kauffman in his remarks to the panel emphasized that county officials are concerned about "the loss of farmland and environmental resources." He also said, "We are looking for partnerships to better determine how we grow. We are concerned about suburban sprawl and how we grow, and the financial burdens that residential sprawl places on our county governments."
Kauffman pointed out that NACos Board has made smart growth a priority for the nations county organization. He also said, "We hear over and over again, this is one of the most important issues before counties.
When asked what he would do in his county with additional resources in support of these issues, Kauffman said, "We would do brownfields. I think also some reinvesting in existing communities to reestablish businesses, to rehabilitate buildings and to do any of those things Ñ parks and neighborhoods, quality of life issues."
During testimony by leading organizations involved in development issues, Richard Moe, President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, told the Senate panel that "federal policies have contributed to problem" and that the federal government "now has some duty to help." Moe was joined on the panel by representatives of the Sierra Club, Pacific Research Institute, National Association of Homebuilders and the National Realty Committee.