Rural area residents question plan input

Telegraph-Herald (Dubuque, IA), 2014-03-27

FARLEY, Iowa - Several residents expressed concern that their input was not being heard on draft chapters of the proposed Dubuque County Smart Plan.

At a nearly three-hour meeting Wednesday night, the county's Smart Planning Committee reviewed two chapters dedicated to goals for watershed management and agricultural and natural resources. About 40 county residents attended the meeting, offering feedback and criticism of the drafted chapters.

Governing bodies of most of the communities in Dubuque County , including the county itself, have adopted the plan, which ostensibly promotes sustainable and cooperative growth throughout the county, after a two-year public input process. But a contingent of Dyersville residents protested its adoption and convinced its City Council to reject the plan, prompting similar efforts at the county level.

Additional meetings are being held to go over portions of the plan.

Some in attendance criticized how the drafted plans were put together, including oversight on what suggestions and changes were included.

Craig Recker , a farmer from New Vienna , said the consortium working on the plan did not include enough people from diverse backgrounds, beyond primarily city and county government officials.

"There's very little input from the average Joe," said Recker, a member of Dubuque County Farm Bureau .

Officials working on the plan did hold dozens of meetings in the multi-year process during which it was created, all were open to the public.

Recker noted the Farm Bureau provided its own suggested draft language for the plan, and he and others were disappointed to see so little of the suggestions incorporated in the draft.

County Zoning Administrator Anna O'Shea said she and other county staff have reviewed and heard several public comments on what the drafted chapters should say, and the planning committee made changes they felt were appropriate. She added some language, such as the provisions that specify projects and policies should be cost- effective and protect private property rights, will be included in an introductory chapter to the plan.

Dyersville resident Dean Knepper wanted O'Shea to ensure the county Board of Supervisors was provided with all comments on the Smart Plan process - both good and bad.

He said that when the previous comprehensive plan was adopted in 2001, it didn't seem like the supervisors were aware of what the plan entailed. He said one supervisor admitted to not reading the bulky plan.

O'Shea said there still will be a lot of meetings ahead and chances for the public to weigh in on proposed changes to the plan. Residents insisted in having nighttime meetings, since many work during daytime hours.

O'Shea added that the final decisions on Smart Plan adoption would have to be made by the city councils or the Board of Supervisors . Cities can decide for themselves what changes might need to be made.

Another criticism of the drafted chapters was that some parts were unneeded, as there already are guidelines and agencies in place for watershed management and conservation.

O'Shea and Eric Schmechel , the county's soil and water conservation district administrator, said the plan language would not, at this point, impose any new regulations on farmers and other landowners.

The plans reflect policies already in place at the county level and mirror those set at the state and federal levels.

"I want you to put that in writing," Knepper replied.

O'Shea said all people present at Wednesday's meeting are invited to join an advisory committee on the Smart Plan process. She said those interested can email or call the Dubuque County Zoning Office, and she will send out agendas and documents related to the plan. The next meeting will be held June 25 in Epworth .