Wednesday, August 24, 2005

' At Last! Almost ... '

Guest opinion by Len Harlig

Guest opinion by LEN HARLIG
Len Harlig is a former commissioner on the Blaine County Commission

After five years and the expenditure of more than $4 million, the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for state Highway 75 is approaching a Record of Decision. It is possible that a decision might be available this coming January.

Do you remember a countywide survey in 1989 identifying the limitations of Highway 75 as the highest concern of our residents?

Do you remember a competent group of community-minded citizens publishing the Blaine County Transportation Study in February 1991, as a follow-up to the 1989 survey result? You may remember some of the participants: Alan Reynolds, Mary Ann Mix, Guy Coles, Steve Luber, Walt Femling, Len Harlig, Garth McClure and Loren Thomas of the Idaho Transportation Department. The 1991 study took 10 months of weekly meetings and research. It wasn't an EIS, but it was a thoughtful, well-researched and prescient document. If you compare the 1991 study and the 2005 EIS you will find substantial differences in cost, style, scope of work and in the sheer volume of paper; but 14 years later, you will also find very similar conclusions and recommendations for the Highway 75 sections between Bellevue and Ketchum.

Do you remember a countywide vote held in November 1996 on Highway 75? Eighty-six percent of the voters said to expand Highway 75.

People who voted in the November 1996 election continue to ask who overturned their huge majority vote and why all the needed improvements to Highway 75 still haven't been made. This is how it happened: A very slim minority of residents and a few north city council members decided that they knew better than the majority of residents and the highway experts. ('The tyranny of the minority') they forced delays that obstructed the needs and safety of the majority; and everyone lost something valuable. Time was lost, money was lost, safety was lost, vehicle victims were lost, and even the obstructionists will lose in the end. "Head-in-the-sand planning" is why there are ostrich-steak meals and ostrich-skin boots.

In contrast, "long-range planning" is what separates a thinking community from ostriches. Please, let's stop repeating the same tragic mistakes made with Highway 75 (similar mistaken thoughts are still being offered today against other infrastructure problems our community faces). Dissent has a well-earned place in a democracy, but it has a responsibility to prove its case ... not just wiggle its butt in the air while inhaling sand at its other end. In avian terms, we need more thinking-eagles and fewer Luddite-ostriches if we hope to have a safe and reliable community nest for our future fledglings.

Either we manage our own destiny or we become the victims of someone else's agenda. "Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice"

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