From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 2, Number 36 - December 5, 2002
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PDR group to survey public

by Cat Urbigkit

Just how much public input is needed and whether that input is educated enough to matter was the subject of several hours of discussion Monday evening.

The Sublette County Purchase of Development Rights Working Group met to discuss whether to recommend the county commissioners initiate a PDR program in the county.

At its last meeting, only group members Nancy Espenscheid and Bernie Holz were present, in addition to Tom Davenport, who was filling in for the absent John Andrikopoulos. Also absent from the meeting were members Jo Crandall and Albert Sommers. The group spent the afternoon reviewing the results of the survey it had distributed to those attending recent PDR informational sessions. The results indicated strong support for the creation of a county PDR program.

At that Nov. 25 meeting, according to the meeting minutes, Holz "pointed out that the opposition is usually the strongest voice in most public meetings. Since there was relatively no opposition at the public meetings or in the questionnaire, there is no reason to recommend against a PDR project of some kind."

The minutes continued that Espenscheid "agreed and felt comfortable with the idea of asking the county commissioners to move forward and do something now."

The group decided that it needed to have all its members present before making a recommendation to the commission, delaying action until the Dec. 2 meeting.

So when the entire five-member group convened Monday evening (with the exception of Andrikopoulos, who was again replaced by Davenport), the group once again reviewed the results of the survey taken during the three recent PDR informational meetings. Carla Sullivan said her count of attendance at those meetings led to a total of nearly 60 different people attending the sessions, with a total of 34 surveys completed and returned to the group for review.

Crandall said she observed that a large group of those attending the informational sessions are people involved, to some degree, in the Green River Valley Land Trust. Crandall indicated as many as 40 to 50 percent of attendees had some connection with the land trust.

Davenport, reflecting on Holz's comment of little opposition, suggested that the county initiate some sort of a pilot program.

Crandall said "reviewing the results made me comfortable ... that there is not real strong opposition" to the idea of the county doing a program.

"I'm not seeing that in the letters to the editor," Crandall said.

Sommers had the opposite view. He said, "I think there is strong opposition to it."

Espenscheid contested "but not strong enough to show up at the meetings." Espenscheid said she feels the group should go to the commission with a "soft suggestion ... that we see no reason not to do something."

Espenscheid said the "soft suggestion" idea is in contrast to "pound on the table" support.

Crandall said, "I think I would be comfortable with the 'soft suggestion.' ... I think an actual project has some merit."

Crandall added that she agreed with Sommers that there is some opposition "and I think we will see it build."

Sommers reminded the group that it had earlier agreed to send out the survey to the general public in the county and said he emphatically believed that task should be completed before going to the county commissioners with any recommendation.

"I don't think we've done our task as far as gathering public input," Sommers said, suggesting the survey be sent to the public either by mass mailing or by advertisements in the newspapers, "to find out what the general public thinks and knows. That's something we still don't know."

Sommers said the survey results from the informational meetings were heavily influenced by the attendance of people associated with the Green River Valley Land Trust.

"That's fine, but I think we need to go beyond that," Sommers said.

Espenscheid and Davenport both challenged the usefulness of results from the general public who hadn't attended the informational sessions.

"I don't think we'll get much new, useable information," Espenscheid said, because it wouldn't include much informed response.

What the results would provide, Espenscheid said, is "the view of the public who has not taken the time to be informed," but Sommers corrected her by stating that it would be the view of the public who didn't take the time to go to the meetings.

Davenport said he agreed that the input would be "uninformed" and said he didn't feel that it was necessary to generate uninformed public opinion "and have people think their opinion counted."

Espenscheid said, "Personally, I'm not in favor of sending this out," but added that since Sommers was so adamant about it, she wouldn't oppose it.

Espenscheid suggested if the survey was sent out, people should have to put their names on the surveys, which was not a requirement for those attending the informational sessions and getting the surveys there.

Davenport said he felt as adamantly about the issue as Sommers, but with an opposing view. He said a mass mailing "to people with no background ... will be a waste of taxpayers' money," as well as "misleading."

Espenscheid said anyone wanting to fill out a survey should "either sign their names or ask for one. I don't think it's valid unless they are identified."

Sommers said, "Wow - that's democracy."

Espenscheid said the input the group has received didn't give the group "any cause to go slow, or go slower."

The debate continued until Sommers said the issue of gathering more public input should be voted on by group members to put an end to the argument. He made a motion to place the survey in the newspapers for people to fill out, cut out and return to the county planning office. Holz seconded the motion. The motion passed, with Sommers, Crandall and Holz voting in support, Davenport opposed and Espenscheid abstaining.

The group decided the survey will be printed in the form of full-page ads in the county's newspapers next Thursday, Dec. 12, and the completed surveys must be returned by Dec. 20. The PDR group will meet Jan. 3 to review the survey results. That meeting will be held at 1 p.m. in the Sublette County Library in Pinedale. The group also plans on going to the county commission with their recommendation at the Jan. 6 commission meeting in Pinedale.

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