Monday, May 17, 2010

All the news that's fit to print

It's been a busy spring and we've fallen behind in our blogging duties, so let's bring everyone up to date.

Earlier this year, the two Tennessee state legislators whose districts include Overton Park -- Rep. Jeanne Richardson and Sen. Beverly Marrero -- introduced a bill to designate the 150-acre Old Forest State Natural Area. We asked you to write support letters to state legislators and Mayor Wharton. More than 200 forest-lovers did just that, because you're awesome.

We also wrote a guest editorial on the topic, and the Memphis Zoo fired back. They called us liars (it's okay, that's just how Chuck Brady rolls) and issued a counter-proposal to protect the Old Forest with a private conservation easement rather than State Natural Area designation.

Memphis Park Services worked with Zoo leaders to create a draft easement which we were allowed to comment on. You can download the draft easement [PDF] and our response [PDF] if you'd like to read along at home. We assume that public negotiations will continue on this topic. This is major progress from two years ago, when City and Zoo officials were not willing to acknowledge the need for any type of legal protection for the Old Forest. We're not on the same page yet, but at least we're all reading from the same book.

Unfortunately, in a cruel blow to our newborn warm fuzzy feelings, a few of our City officials chose to attach a false fiscal note to the Old Forest State Natural Area legislation. This fiscal note claimed that the Old Forest SNA would cost the City more than $31 million dollars to implement. The City then issued a "corrected" version of this fiscal note claiming it would only cost $6.8 million or so. You can read the City's current fiscal note here.

How much does it normally cost local governments to implement SNA designation? Not much. For example, check out SB 3872, a bill introduced by Sen. Jim Kyle this year, which designates the 225-acre Hill Forest State Natural Area in Nashville and adds acreage to an existing SNA. The City of Nashville said the cost of this was not significant and that's typical of SNA designations across the state.

The Hill Forest State Natural Area was signed into law in March, but the Old Forest State Natural Area is still languishing in committee. And who can blame those committees? It'll cost Memphis more than six million dollars! Except that it won't.

We sent a rebuttal to the City [PDF] in response to the original $31 million fiscal note [PDF] and those arguments apply to the current fiscal note as well. We received an encouraging response from Chief Administrative Officer George Little [PDF] but have heard nothing from the City officials who wrote the fiscal note.

So, where do we stand now? The 2010 Tennessee legislative session is almost over. Our bill is dead. We are waiting to hear back from the City on our proposed changes to their draft conservation easement.

At this point we think a strong conservation easement may be an appropriate way to protect the cultural and historic values of the entire 342-acre park. We also think the best (cheapest, easiest, most effective, most publicly transparent) way to protect Overton Park's irreplaceable old growth forest is by SNA designation.

When the Old Forest State Natural Area bill gets reintroduced next year, we hope that our City officials will support it wholeheartedly. CPOP's "little old ladies in tennis shoes" had to fight City Hall for nearly 15 years before they saved Overton Park from being blasted apart by Interstate 40. We know our history and would prefer not to keep repeating it.

2 comments:

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Vvixen said...

I'm sorry to hear that your natural area bill is dead for this legislative session. Since the legislature is controlled by extreme conservatives right now, it's going to be a hard slog, but if you're persistant, I think you'll eventually succeed. I'm learning a little about lobbying myself these days, so I know how hard it can be. I don't live in Midtown anymore, but I'll do whatever I can to help you in your efforts. The old forest of Overton Park is a legacy that belongs to all Memphians.

Joan Carr
East Memphis