Governor: development should meet standardsWritten by Jennifer Womack
By Jennifer Womack, WLR Managing Editor
Casper – “In those times if you lived in the rural areas like my family did, you lived there because that’s where you made your living,” said Governor Dave Freudenthal at his recent “Building the Wyoming We Want” forum in Casper. Close to 500 people were in attendance for day one of the two-day conference on Jan. 10.
“Suddenly, Wyoming is among the 10 fastest growing states in the country,” said introductory speaker and former Maryland governor Parris Glendening. He is now with the Governors’ Institute on Community Design.
Half of Wyoming’s growth in the past six years, said Freudenthal, has occurred in rural areas.
“Too big to mow, too small to plow,” was how Sonoran Institute Founder and Director Luther Propst categorized the growth. He said Wyoming’s population grew 62 percent from 1970 to 2000, but the land we occupy grew by 350 percent.
“Without our planning somebody else will plan our future,” said U.S. Senator John Barrasso. “Unless we dictate what we want for ourselves and then we fight for it, Washington will force its one-size-fits-all mentality on us. We must plan smartly. We must set priorities.”
“I think for us to go forward in this state and have the kind of place we want to turn over to our children, it’s important that we respect the free market and that we respect private property rights,” said Freudenthal. “I also believe it’s appropriate we hold ourselves to the same standard that we want to hold those who are moving into the state in terms of mineral activity or other kinds of undertakings to, and we’re not doing it.”
Freudenthal added. “We have higher standards for the operation of the mineral industry than we do for an individual or developer who chooses to develop the land.”
Freudenthal offered an example of a subdivision where roads are built and county services demanded. Long-term the development may have issues with infrastructure, such as lacking water, and look to entities like the Office of State Lands and Investments or the Wyoming Water Development Commission (WWDC). “All of the sudden,” he said, “we have picked up, through our public side, a great deal of the expense that one would normally, in a free market state, expect to be picked up as part of the free market system that created this development or subdivision in an outlying area where somebody decided to put a house.”
WWDC Director Mike Purcell told of a recent phone call to his agency during which a homeowner said he lived in a subdivision of nearly 100 homes since the 1970s. Waterlines in the subdivision were leaking due to aging infrastructure and the residents were looking to the state to help. “I had to tell this guy we could help him, but should we?” asked Purcell at Thursday’s conference. “Are we becoming part of the problem?”
Outlining the process required to modify a wetland to improve habitat as a point of comparison, Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust Fund Executive Director Bob Budd pointed out, “We can carve a ranch into 40-acre plots almost overnight.” Noting Wyoming’s history laced with the Homestead Act and an early day push for larger homesteads he said, “We’re back to somehow implying that 40 acres is enough.”
While public opinion largely supports open spaces, Propst noted, “The kind of development people value the most is the hardest to get approved.” He said counties need a common vision for growth, principals for quality development that begin with public buildings and reach into the community and a commitment to protect private property rights.
During a question and answer session following the Thursday morning session Casper rancher Doug Cooper questioned where those items, like the estate tax, driving the conversion of agricultural lands to developments applied. “There are places where they’re implementing policies to protect ag,” said Propst.
“We really don’t have a legislative package,” said Freudenthal of the upcoming session. “What I do have is a firm conviction that talking about managing growth in this state has to start here and not in Cheyenne.”
“Wyoming is now the envy of every state in the nation,” said Propst of the state’s mineral wealth and positioning to initiate change. “You have a huge opportunity to do the right thing.”
Attendees spent the afternoon in breakout sessions with plans to return to the conference on Friday, Jan. 11. Watch next week’s Roundup for additional news from the conference.