Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Fwd: Update On SB1190

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Thomas Shepperd <tgshep@cox.net>
Date: Mon, Feb 14, 2011 at 7:57 PM
Subject: Update On SB1190
To: Thomas Shepperd <tgshep@cox.net>

Dear Neighbor,

Senate Bill 1190, a bill to place aquaculture operations in the Right to Farm Act, passed in the Senate and is now up for consideration this Wednesday (February 16th) in the House of Delegates Agriculture Committee.   If you wish to express an opinion on SB1190, here is a list of Delegates that serve on the Agriculture Committee. 


I remain very much opposed to SB1190 for one simple reason.  It denies residents a meaningful way of commenting to their locally elected representatives about an issue that could affect their homes and neighborhood.  My opposition to this bill has nothing to do with oyster operations, the state's constitution, or the proposal that was recommended for denial by the York Planning Commission.   It has everything to do with us (you and I) losing our ability to have a reasonable and effective way of expressing an opinion about a neighborhood business.  To put SB1190 into perspective consider this.  Your neighbor decides to establish a home business next door to you or somewhere else in or around  your neighborhood.   You are concerned that the business might negatively impact your property and community.  I suspect most of you would want to have the ability to address your concerns to your elected Supervisor and know that your comments could have an effect.   As it pertains to aquaculture, SB1190 denies us this capability, especially for residents along the waterfront.

Now in fairness, I must point out that SB1190 does not prohibit an appeal to the Virginia Marine Resource Commission (VMRC) whose members are appointed by and responsible only to the Governor.  The VMRC conducts hearings during normal work hours and is located in downtown Newport News.   In my opinion, appealing to this appointed state board is an inconvenient and time consuming effort and, for these reasons, many residents prefer to engage their local government.

Again, this is your opportunity to express your thoughts on the SB1190, one way or the other.   


Tom Shepperd
Program Manager, Alion Science and Technology
Office - 757.240.5386
Mobile - 757.618.3335
Fax - 757.596.4014

Extract of my 2/5/11 email:

State Senate Bill (SB) 1190 needs your immediate attention and I recommend that you  write to the state senate and express your opinion on the issue.  SB 1190, introduced by Senator Norment, is titled "Aquaculture Production Activities: Authority of Local Governments." The concern I have with the bill has nothing to do with aquaculture or farming, which I support.  My concern is with state government intruding into local issues.  

Here is some background on the situation leading up to SB1190.  In November, a resident applied for a Special Use Permit to conduct oyster farming from piers on residential property.  The application worked its way through the local planning process to a public hearing before the York County Planning Commission.  The public hearing was advertised by the County, the staff introduced the application, the applicant presented his points, residents were invited to make comments, which they did, and the Planning Commission asked questions of the applicant and staff before deliberating publically on the proposal.  After the deliberation, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend that the Board of Supervisors deny the special use permit.  At this point the resident withdrew the application and took the issue to Senator Norment, who in turn introduced SB1190.  If approved, SB1190 will prohibit local governments from requiring a special use permit for oyster farming.  In other words, local governments and its citizens will no longer be allowed to make input on the issue.  This is where I have a problem with the bill.

What bothers me most is why Senator Norment feels so compelled to act on an local issue for a single individual.  To give you some perspective, consider this.  There are over 8 million residents and just 40 state senators in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  This means that each senator represents about 200,000 citizens.  Yet, when the York County Board of Supervisors, which represents over 65,000 citizens tried to meet with Senator Norment on the County's legislative program, which included issues such as funding support for education, transportation, and public safety, we were unable to meet.

Even more curious is that I cannot find a single instance where a local government in Virginia has requested that oyster operations be included in the Right to Farm Act.  No other county has brought this up.  To underscore this point, it is my understanding that the Virginia Association of Counties whose membership includes Virginia's 95 counties, and possibly the Virginia Municipal League, will oppose SB1190.  Even the Virginia Marine Resources Commission has serious reservations, not only from a workload perspective, but also because of the potential negative impact the bill could have on the whole oyster industry due to health concerns.  One would think that a legislative action impacting a local government with over 200 miles of coast line would first be vetted with the local government.  It wasn't. 

Local governments did not ask for this bill and I can tell you that residents near the site of the proposed oyster operation are very concerned about the scope of operations.  SB1190 will deny residents the ability to make meaningful input for future proposals.  And, if SB1190 goes unchallenged what's the next intrusion by which the state government tells us what's best for our communities?   Is this an overreaction?   Maybe, but for those of you who have fought and lost on the issue of street connections to neighborhoods because of state rules, you'll know that it isn't.

Alexander of York