Friday, June 22, 2007

Spoiling the Unspoilt & Refusing to Share

HT: Drudge

George Clooney is not happy. Whatever is becoming of his beautiful Lake Como in Italy? You can go look at the article but it is a common story we have all witnessed and in fact, most of us probably have at one time or another starred in a similar story.

Drudge and The Times Online use the acronym NIMBY (not in my backyard) but to use that acronym in such a fashion is finger pointing and we all know at least a dozen clinches about finger pointing (so I spare you from all of them).

Our Joy

I would guess a rather small percentage of us own a vacation place in addition to our full-time homes (count me in the non-owning bunch). Still, most of us probably know someone with a place Up North or somewhere else rather nice & secluded. Of course it is beautiful and part of the allure is the feeling of getting away.

We all know those lakes where the shore is as every bit as crowded as the suburbs or the city, and it takes away from the allure, part of going to the lake or (as we say in Wisconsin) up north is the feeling you are going to a secluded place away from people and the hustle of daily life. What good does it do to go to a place every bit as crowded (if not more so) than home?

Of course, little, or at least the benefit of getting away is reduced.

Paradise Lost

I have fond memories of the place I grew up. In the middle of farm country enough neighbors we could get a game of kicker, baseball, or football going, but not too many we had to go to park we could just set up a playing field in our yards. The fields surrounding our house were used for grazing cows and after the Sauer farm burnt down for raising cash crops (wheat, corn, hay, etc). I would wander the woodlots in the summer looking to build a fort or in the fall looking for squirrels, grouse, or rabbits (with my trusty 870 20 gauge, I did not look too hard though).

Those fields & woodlots are now home lots many with homes on them. Is there a sense of loss? You bet, the view out of my old bedroom window is now filled with the lights of a house at night and the house itself during day.

Same too at my father's place Up North the lots we used to hunt on, the mansion we used to rove, the boathouse we used to fish off are now all owned by other and are strictly verbotten to our activities (or at least verbotten without invite). Even without the desire to replay those memories there is a sense of loss.

What is Mine is Mine!

Now, there are well understood ways of preserving the pristine state of your surroundings. The first is to buy up as much of it as possible. However, this comes with the cost of the surrounding land (up north that is a very dear proposition), the taxes on the land (see previous parenthetical comment), maintaining and defending the land, and so on.

Then there is a way that is at least cheaper to the individual. Pass a law (or a zoning ordinance) or get the government to buy and preserve the land.

However, is this tendency selfish? Is it not wanting to share? I remember seeing similar reactions in people we would talk to about the lake my father is on (when they were considering the purchase of the lot). They would emphasize the crummy weather, the worms in the lake (that would latch onto your legs), and all of the negatives. They were quite obviously trying to discourage others from spoiling their pristine area – that is – they were being selfish and unwilling to share.

How About A Quid?

This most often comes up in context of something ugly moving in next to people. That is to say, a power plant, a petroleum refinery, a powerline, a wind farm etc. Fact of the matter is it is quite reasonable to not one of those in your backyard. Come on, those items reduce property values and cost you quality of life. It is quite easy to say we need these items when they are being built in someone else's backyard.

Being, I have never been approached to have something like that next door I do not know how it all works. However my understanding is the government recognizes the need for such infrastructure and using the power of eminent domain acquires the land it needs compensating the owners of the acquired land, and provides little or no compensation to those whose loss is the reduction of property value & quality of life.

This is why such projects are resisted by people. I wonder if those whose who are indirectly affected by such projects (i.e. those who lose property value & have a reduced quality of life) are ever compensated? In some cases I know they are. Those living in the town of Two Creeks Wisconsin do not pay property taxes. Why not? Because of the quid the nuclear plant in the town gives to operate the plant there. That is, the nuclear plant pays the property taxes for the entire town.

Similarly, a large landfill operation grants free dumping to the town my father lives in, again part of the deal to be allowed to operate there.

Now, I wonder how many of these large ugly public infrastructure projects offer some sort of benefit to those who live nearby? I wonder if they would offer something to local residents to compensate for the loss the projects would be better received? Seems fair.