AG PROTECTION PLAN
Title VI – Take the High Road
"Impenetrable" is the word that best describes Tompkins County government’s policy making. From their “identifying needs,” and continuing through their entire policy formulation and approval process — there is no place where the public has any meaningful participation; or any participation. County and local government decision making is as far out of reach of the rural residents as a royal coach parading past the commoners.
The Town of Lansing Agriculture and Farmland Protection Plan is a good example of how well government is defended from public intrusion; even at the local level — and how each level is supported and protected by every succeeding level of authority.
In response to my email expressing concerns with the “Summary of Findings” section of the Proposed Agriculture and Farmland Protection Plan, after my opening comment:
“This Summary gives overall feeling that nobody else lives [or deserves to live] in North Lansing but farmers.”
M** R** [Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Agricultural Issue Leader – and the Plan’s lead writer] inserted the phrase:
“- you are right”
This blatant statement of planning bias was never retracted or contradicted by CCE, or any subsequent authority, at any level of government.
Title VI Complaint
12/21/2015 – I completed a Formal Complaint/CCE Tompkins County form and mailed it via Certified Mail to K** S** [Association Executive Director and CCE Title VI Coordinator.]
Opening summary of the Complaint’s issues:
Re: Complaint Under Title VI Environmental Justice
I submit this complaint against Cornell Cooperative Extension Tompkins County for issuing a report [The Town of Lansing Agriculture and Farmland Protection Plan] and associated documents under the heading “Ag Documents” recommending the creation of an Agricultural Zone with significant zoning changes that will have a disproportionately negative impact on the poor non-farming residents of that district.
The Environmental Justice Community identification methodology was flawed. CCE Tompkins never [EJ] mapped the actual Ag Zone. The boundaries and inclusion/exclusion of land in the Lansing Agricultural Zone is arbitrary and capricious. The mandates for meaningful participation were consistently ignored. The non-farming residents [95% of the district’s population] were entirely and deliberately excluded from the report writing and making process. Plan information released was deceptive and false. The CCE Tompkins County Agricultural Issue Leader was clearly and admittedly biased. No venue or public meeting for rebuttal of the Plan’s assertions and policies was ever held. No disclosure of the negative impact of the Plan’s policies and recommendations on non-farming residents was ever made. No outreach was made to advertise or inform the non-farming residents of the Plan’s public hearing. Plan’s assertions were never questioned, or allowed to be questioned. No questions of any kind were allowed at the public hearing. The committee appointed for “setting the plan into motion and prioritizing the actions” will be composed entirely of farmers and agricultural landowners, preventing non-farming residents from having any say in the future of their own community.
“The Environmental Justice component of Title VI guarantees fair treatment for all people and provides for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County (CCE — Tompkins), to identify and address, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority and low-income populations”
The body of the Complaint identified and detailed numerous defects in the Plan; where it knowingly and deliberately ignored mandates for meaningful participation:
The EPA’s goal for Environmental Justice:
“the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people” with “particular emphasis on the public health of and environmental conditions affecting minority, low-income, and indigenous populations”
The creation of a zoning district is a “permitting” activity. [NYSDEC CP-29] “This policy will promote the fair involvement of all people in the DEC environmental permit process.”
The Complaint also listed Ag Plan Committee actions that would further disenfranchise the rural poor by removing their ability to participate the future of their own community.
The Conclusion of the Complaint:
“In spite of their claims of ‘Building Strong and Vibrant New York Communities,’ their Title VI mandates and the publicly stated policies of New York State; Cornell Cooperative Tompkins County deliberately excluded the very community they’ve chosen to bear all of these health, monetary and life costs from the decision making process of this Plan.
Public participation is intended to provide legitimacy to government decisions — excluding 95% of the people speaks for itself.”
I would like to be able to write about how these issues were argued and adjudicated; but I can’t — because I never found out.
This is how it all went down:
The Formal Complaint was received and signed for at CCE Tompkins on 12/21/2015 – but I was unable to get a response to my emails until 1/21/2016 and finally arranged a meeting on 2/8/2016 with the CCE Title VI Coordinator.
He said he would read through the Ag Plan; and spoke of a revised Plan with the representation of all rural residents.
2/9/2016 – my follow up email was unacknowledged.
2/22/2016 – 2/29/2016 – 3/9/2016 – follow up emails were all unacknowledged.
3/28/2016 – Title VI Complaint with cover letter mailed via Certified Mail to CCE Director C** W**.
Reply dated 5/3/2016 – from CCE Director C** W**:
“In reviewing the information you shared with S** and information contained within the Agriculture and Farmland Protection Plan we have come to the conclusion that the responsible party for the plan is the Town of Lansing. We ask that you direct your complaint to the Town of Lansing as this is their plan and responsibility.”
6/21/2016 – Letters with enclosures mailed via Certified Mail to Town of Lansing Supervisor and Town Board members [and copied with enclosures to three Senators.]
Replies from two Senators: “I do not have authority or jurisdiction to intervene . . . the Town of Lansing would have the final decision in this matter.” “Your situation involves city agencies and is, therefore, under the jurisdiction of your local government officials.”
There was never any acknowledgement or reply to this letter from any of my “local government officials.”
8/4/2016 – Follow up letters mailed via Certified Mail to Town of Lansing Supervisor and Town Board members regarding their lack of response to requests for meaningful participation by rural residents.
There was never any acknowledgement or reply to this letter.
Like a narrow pathway winding around the outside of a towering stone barricade – taking the “high road” to public participation brought me ever-higher – but never closer to my goal.
The “high road” leads nowhere.
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