July 15, 2014
"The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress"
We always tend to think of tyranny as something happening far away on a large, international stage, with actors named Saddam Hussein and Hitler playing the parts. But if tyranny is the “unjust, unreasonable, or arbitrary use of power,” then it certainly can be found anywhere and in varying degrees. When our local political and business leaders would move forward with the destruction of a wildlife refuge that thousands of you want to see preserved, it is tyranny. When developers claim they are exercising their “property rights” while trampling yours, it is tyranny. When people like McKee, Brandolini, and Julian use their huge bankrolls to steamroll citizens who want to preserve their quality of life, it is tyranny. When our elected officials do the developers’ bidding and permit our roads, schools, and community to be filled beyond capacity, it is tyranny. When our remaining green spaces are entombed in concrete, and when residents are made to pay the hidden costs of “development,” it is tyranny. Of course, opposing the tyranny we’re talking about here doesn’t require the mobilization of an army or navy. It doesn’t require you to make the ultimate sacrifice. Preserving Beaver Valley and YOUR quality of life only requires your ACTIVE participation.
The developers have enormous sums of money at their disposal to push their open-space-killing agenda. They retain the most expensive lawyers, hire public relations firms, and make consistent, large donations to all the necessary local and state politicians of both parties in order to sustain their huge profits. Their hirelings make the case for them that their property rights as a developer supercede the rights of citizens whose quality of life will be adversely affected by the developer’s construction. Very frequently, the developers’ lawyers actually write the zoning laws and codes in the townships where they operate and then they claim that their “development” plans are just following the zoning code!
Developers like McKee and the Julian brothers show little concern about what the environmental impacts of their actions are. There is certainly no concern for our posterity or what the country will look like as they continue to ravage the countryside like a Frankenstein’s monster running amok. Long after Frank McKee and the Julian brothers retreat to their posh enclaves, we are left to deal with ever increasing frustrations like traffic, school taxes, and pollution of all types. No less important are lost viewsheds, destroyed wildlife habitat, reduced recreational options, and diminished quality of life. Every time some developer socializes significant costs of construction to the rest of us, we are reminded of just who wields the power in our democracy: those with the most money. But people don’t have to take it anymore. They are the few; we are the many. The continued destruction of our environment by a profit driven minority can be stopped if you get involved and oppose them.
Eastern States and McKee are the two companies trying to "develop" Beaver Valley
We hear all the time that we shouldn’t get in the way of progress, as though it were some kind of inevitable force of nature. That word is usually trundled out by those in power when we complain about things that diminish our quality of life. That traffic congestion you just sat in? A small price to pay for progress. That dead stream near your house that no longer supports fish? Progress. That higher school tax bill you just got? Your child’s overcrowded school? That pollution you’re breathing? That loss of your town’s remaining open space? Small costs to pay for progress. It’s the mantra the powerful use to silence those who would speak up about environmental degradation. They would cover the entire Earth in asphalt, PVC, and concrete and call it progress.
There are many other costs, too, that we have to bear in exchange for progress, but we have grown so used to being sold a bill of goods that we seem to have lost the ability to question. Should we accept a polluted stream in exchange for “progress” or should we recognize that pollution for what it is: “tyranny”? It’s time we had progress of a different sort. This kind of progress doesn’t pollute our water, destroy our environment, or pave over our remaining open space. Maybe it’s time that conservancies get all the money they need to save open space, and developers have to hold bake sales to fund their developments.
It’s been said that what happens in a courtroom sometimes has nothing to do with the truth. A chasm can exist between what counts as evidence to a reasonable person and what counts as evidence in a courtroom. What does it take to convince a reasonable person that something is the truth, and what does it take to bring a jury to certain verdict? A reasonable person only needs to believe that something is the truth based on the available evidence, whereas in court, that same reasonable person might not be allowed to hear all of the available evidence, depending on the price of the lawyers involved.
This is certainly the case with Beaver Valley. We have offered irrefutable documentary evidence and eyewitness testimony that surpasses what a reasonable person would need to be convinced that Dr. Brubaker wanted his land to be preserved. Sadly, Dr. Brubaker’s story will never be heard in a courtroom because certain scribbles don’t appear on certain pieces of paper. A reasonable person doesn’t need pen strokes to believe the statements of Dr. Brubaker’s surviving family, his former neighbors, people who rented his house after he moved out, and even the former president of Woodlawn. That’s enough for a reasonable person to know that Dr. Brubaker sold his land to Woodlawn in order to conserve it. It is bald tyranny, then, that his old arboretum, ancient barn, and estate would be bulldozed for profit by Woodlawn, McKee, and the Julian brothers. We need thousands of reasonable people to stand up and make our case in the court of public opinion that this land should be saved.
"Shared power vs concentrated power." A screenshot from 1946 film, Despotism.
Whenever one party comes to dominate an area, you can be sure that business interests will have a free hand to act against the public interest. This is certainly true in Philadelphia where the democratic party hasn’t had serious competition for decades, and we can all see plainly the results of that. If it’s true of our nearest big city, then it’s certainly true of Delaware County and Concord Township. One party rule in the county and Concord has given developers like Frank McKee a free hand to profit massively from the maximum build out of the county and our township.
This is not a republican party problem. This is a lack of political competition problem. Just as Philadelphia hasn’t had other than a few token republicans on City Council for decades, Delaware County Council and The Concord Township Board of Supervisors haven’t had a democrat on their boards in at least four decades. And with that lack of competition comes decisions that favor special interests. Party loyalists go to the polls and select their party candidate unaware that the candidate they support doesn’t support them. Instead, their chosen candidates represent the developers and business. They play the progress card, or chant “property rights” with perfect pitch, and hypnotize us into forgetting that we should have a huge say in how our community is “developed.” This community input occurs much more frequently in towns and counties where power is shared by both major parties. One party rule in Concord, on the other hand, has transformed our rural township into one that now meets the minimum population requirements to be classified as a CITY.
Recalling our open space comparison we published in February, the counties which had the most vibrant open space protection programs were ones which had boards and councils made up of both parties. Chester, Burlington, Salem, Bucks, and Montgomery Counties for example all have republicans and democrats on their governing councils and they also have incredibly effective and well-funded open space protection programs. Those counties combined have directly saved, with county money, in excess of 250,000 acres of open space over the past thirty or so years. Is it not a form of tyranny that Delaware County, a political monopoly, has used none of its own money to save any open space? Is it not a form of tyranny that Concord officials would make no effort to save Beaver Valley? As we pointed out in our Eminent Domain Article, the supervisors are not powerless to stop the destruction of the wildlife refuge in Beaver Valley. And you are not powerless to stop the destruction.
At first glance, it would seem like the preservation of Beaver Valley is only a matter of concern for Concord and Chadds Ford residents, -- not the people south of the PA line. But the residents of Wilmington and New Castle County should be very concerned about the tyranny that is playing out north of the border. The loss of this open space will have a measurable impact on the quality of their drinking water which comes directly from the Brandywine River. To illustrate how important Beaver Valley is to Wilmington's drinking water supply, it’s worth taking a closer look at the plans Woodlawn submitted that detail items like stormwater basins and stormwater management. Native brook trout have been found in the waters of Beaver Valley, which supplies Wilmington with tens of thousands of gallons of pure drinking water every day. Woodlawn’s, McKee’s and Julian’s development would permanently impair the quality of the Brandywine. Oil, gasoline, wiper and radiator fluids, lawn chemicals and fertilizers, household poisons, and God knows what else will make its way into the river and thus into Wilmington’s water supply.
Many cities are doing extraordinary things to protect their water. New York City, for example, despite a severely constrained budget, is literally buying up thousands of acres in the Catskills, the source of its drinking water. The purity of its water relies entirely on the purity of the land in that upstream region. Knowing that its water quality completely depends on what happens upstream, it’s unclear why the city government in Wilmington has remained so silent to plans that would impair their water supply. Opposing this upstream tyranny would keep massive amounts of non-point-source pollution out of Wilmington's water supply. Of course, political leaders in Concord and Delaware County don’t care a whit about Wilmington’s water supply. And let’s not forget either that Wilmington city government is a democratic political monopoly, so this tyranny is not being opposed as it should be. If McKee and the Julian brothers get their development, they won’t have to pay the cost of polluting the Brandywine: the people of Wilmington will pay for it with their health, that is, unless they refuse to stand for it.
The evidence of two very different policies upstream
Polluted drinking water
Dominic Pileggi at the Open Space Music Fest 2013
The Concord Township supervisors stood at the entrance to the Open Space Music Fest last August and literally asked people as they arrived if they were Concord Township residents, making it all too clear that the concerns of other stakeholders who live in or near Beaver Valley or who have been using the wildlife refuge for years will not be considered. This deliberate exclusion of dissenters and opponents from having a voice in protesting something that directly impacts them is pure tyranny. The impact of Concord’s unchecked, dense development is felt by everyone who lives in the vicinity of Concord. Increased traffic congestion, greater pollution and noise, lost viewsheds and recreational opportunities, and vanishing open space do not respect township, county, and state boundaries. The Concord supervisors would say that’s the price of progress, or sing “property rights” in five part harmony, but we know who wrote that song. Just as a landowner has no right to situate a nuclear waste dump in a residential neighborhood, that same landowner’s property rights should be weighed against the public good when the question of development arises. If public officials won't protect the rights of all interested parties, then stakeholders have to stand up and demand that their interests be considered. One way to do this is to come to the meetings on August 18th and September 2nd.
Apathy is the cause of all environmental problems
We’ve saved the worst tyranny for last. We would not be coping with such huge losses of open space if we all paid closer attention to our local government. If we showed even the slightest interest in the affairs of township government, we would not have seen the addition of 10,000 residents to Concord Township in the past 10 years. We would not be wasting time in traffic jams. We would not have seen the astronomical increase in our school tax bills. And we certainly wouldn’t be fighting to preserve Beaver Valley. It would have been purchased from Woodlawn and set aside as open space long ago. If people paid a little more attention to what’s going on in their community, Delaware County could have turned out a lot more like Chester, Bucks, or Burlington Counties. We have no one to blame but ourselves. We’ve been arm chair quarterbacks criticizing the plays that have been made on the field. We’ve not realized that we actually had to suit up and get in the game. Democracy has to be a participatory sport if we’re to protect our quality of life.
Article written by Ken Hemphill
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