Maybe it's the American way. We did it in Iraq, and we do it here. Those with big money, big power, and small ideas destroy things first and let somebody else worry about putting things back together.
In June of 2006, I walked a scene of obscene greed. (See "Forgive Us Our Trespasses.") Terrified by ever-escalating property taxes, the town gave a slimy developer the green light to clear about 20 acres of unbroken, beautiful, mature hardwood forest to build an "Over-55" community of about 50 houses. The rationale being that 50 retirement homes is better than 20 regular homes that will add kids to the already over-burdened school budget. The woodland was stripped and violated. Not an oak, maple, lady slipper, whitetail deer, scarlet tanager or salamander was spared. The place was bulldozed, rock-crushed and dirt-trucked literally back to the Pleistocene.
For marketing purposes, a sign was erected, a community center with pool was showcased and a few houses were built. The houses were crappy little plastic-sided boxes built on concrete slabs. Of the half dozen or so built, only one or two sold before the developer (Well, no doubt some shadow corporation.) went broke and the scene of the crime was left abandoned for someone else to worry about.
Now, the site has been acquired by another local developer who is also fond of despoiling raw land for profit. The cute little retirement coffins - brand new and never occupied - are being bulldozed (photo) and replaced with mini-mansions. Such simple-minded waste. It's enough to make me sick.
Once again, a crisis of imagination and leadership took us back to the old formulas of the 20th Century. Destruction, sprawl and waste always led to profits in the past because many of the true costs of such greedy enterprises were borne by others.
In August of 2008 - well over a year ago now - I went to visit the site of a proposed "Lifestyle Mall" on the edge of town. (See "Missing the Target.") It's the same story, only on a bigger scale: Children and taxes - Bad. Shopping malls, concrete and asphalt - Good. Nobody seemed to care that the economy was swirling down the toilet and the last thing we need around here is another effing shopping mall - upscale or otherwise. The bulldozers were warming up. These guys just can't wait to tear things apart! Now - well over a year later, as the photo shows, the land still lies cleared and barren. The developer gropes around for a way - any way - out of this debacle, and guess who will come out holding the dirty end of the stick?
And what have we learned from all this? Nothing.
Now, another developer wants to build a retirement and nursing facility on yet another tract of unbroken forest in town. This project is even more outrageous in scale and disruption. Not only will this project erect a cluster of towers reaching high above the tree canopy amidst state park and conservation land, it's construction will clog every street in our quiet town with literally thousands of construction vehicle trips for several years. At every turn, the developer threatens that - should his demands not be met - he will see to it that 88 McMansions, or - God forbid! - affordable housing will be built instead.
A minority of town residents strongly oppose this project. Some of the opponents are conservation-minded treehuggers like me while the rest are NIMBY types who likely never uttered a peep about the other fiascoes in town. At a recent town meeting the developer raised another curtain on the true scale and intent of his plans, revealing that he needed to use a quiet winding dirt road that runs right past a lovely state park to conduct operations in a way that was most efficient and profitable. No matter that this access would put all the construction traffic through the very heart of town; the camel's nose was already under the tent. Voting citizens were so mesmerized by the promised benefits of commercial tax money that they held their noses and grabbed their ankles.
One strong and vocal proponent of the project on the planning board said he had a spreadsheet that shows how this project is good for the town. It might be interesting to examine this spreadsheet and look closely at the lines where the value of the environment is calculated. What cost does he assign to the bulldozing of a tree? How much does it cost when a child is sickened by diesel fumes? What is the value of a quiet stroll down a country road?
Now I'm no Nostradamus, but I've had a vision about where this project is headed. This scheme simply makes no sense. Sure, maybe we need to look to the future when an aging population needs retirement homes and nursing care, but I can't imagine a more inappropriate location for such a facility. The proposed site isn't near anything - no shopping, no public transportation, no services. All traffic, both during and after construction, must travel on two of the narrowest and windiest roads in town. There is NO infrastructure. We have no sewer system in town - on-site septic systems must be built. They don't even have water mains in the area. There is a reason the 300 or so acres of this property has never been developed: It sits on bedrock and boulders (photo). Giant equipment and dynamite will be required for every hole in the ground. Sure, the bulldozers will roll and the trees will fall any day now. Just around the time the destruction is complete and the building is supposed to begin, money will suddenly get tight(er) and suddenly and unexpectedly the cost of diesel fuel will spike (again). The devastated landscape will fall silent and the developer will slink away. Bills will go unpaid. Promised benefits to the town will vanish with the songbirds. We will be left with yet another moonscape of blowing dust and discarded plastic coffee cups.
Note to Readers: I know that since I was consumed by my morbid fascination with the impending exhaustion of our fossil fuel supplies and the inevitable demise of the American suburban/consumer lifestyle my already-limited readership fell off a cliff. That stuff is boring and depressing. I've tried to move the gloom and doom stuff to one of my other blogs, Moose Hill Notebook. I put this story of development and destruction here because it is a follow-up to two earlier posts. In the future, I'll try to keep this blog more focused on quiet walks and contemplation on Moose Hill. In the mean time, you might find (I certainly hope!) more upbeat stuff on my newest blog: Bliss Hill Journal.