Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Public Participation in the Siting Process

Does Sarasota County make planning decisions rationally? This seems a fair question, given the recent efforts, abetted by some board decisions, to bring industrial zoning, even heavy industry, into close proximity with the Celery Fields.

At a public hearing at the Board of County Commissioners in 2015, the Board was asked to allow a Waste Transfer Station to be built on 4.5 acres at Porter Rd. and East Palmer Blvd.

You can see the relevant part of the hearing by clicking to about the two hour and 5-minute mark (2:05), when Bo Medred begins to present his client's application.

It soon becomes clear that the Commissioners know nothing about waste transfer stations, and there's no shame - it's a specialized industry. But they are the deciders, so they ought to have some prepping. For example, someone might have offered them this pamphlet from the EPA:

Waste Transfer Decision Making Guide (EPA)

Amazingly, our federal government produces documents over the entire range of civic realities, most available for the asking. Does anyone ask?

For future reference, here's a digest of just one part of the pamphlet, selected by an environmentalist working to enlighten a set of deciders who seem to make up their minds based on who they know, rather than what.  It's brief - have a look:

The Siting Process and Public Involvement

The [siting] committee’s main responsibility includes developing criteria to identify and evaluate potential sites. The committee should consist of key individuals who represent various stakeholder interests. These stakeholders might include:

• Community and neighborhood groups.
• Industry and business representatives.
• Civic and public interest groups.
• Environmental organizations.
• Local- and state-elected officials.
• Public officials, such as public works employees and solid waste professionals.
• Academic institutions.

Planning and Siting a Transfer Station 

Maximizing Public Committee Participation
Public committees are often convened to assist with developing public

To maximize participation, the process should:

• Give committee members a chance to be actively involved.
• Allow the committee to remove the selected facilitator if concerns about objectivity exist.
• Encourage members to discuss relevant concerns and to raise questions or objections freely. Criticisms or challenges should be directed toward the issues; the facilitator should swiftly mitigate personal criticisms.
• Agree on a means to resolve disagreements before they arise.
• Allow members to discuss the results of each meeting with their constituents.
• Provide technical experts to educate participants.
Distribute literature about upcoming issues before meetings

Informing the Community

When initiating a siting process, education must be extended beyond the siting committee and include a community-wide outreach initiative.

Components of this type of public outreach typically include:

• Special public meetings.
• Interviews with local newspapers for feature stories.
• Interviews with media editorial boards.
• Interviews with broadcast media.
• News conferences, press releases, and press kits.
• Paid advertising.
• Internet sites.
• Informational literature.
• Direct mail with project updates.
• City council/county commission presentations.
• Presentations to civic, environmental, religious, and professional groups.
• Presentations to neighborhood groups.
• Community education programs and workshops.
• Reading files located in public libraries or community centers that document the process.

Beyond community-wide outreach, initiate specific and targeted contact with key members of potential host communities, and identify community specific conditions that need to be considered. Individuals might become proponents of the proposed facility if contacted directly for input, rather than opposing it based on misleading secondhand information.


It seems fair that if the siting of waste transfer stations would benefit from public education and some in-depth understanding by those making decisions, even more so it would seem mere good sense to do some diligent homework, and public outreach, when it comes to thinking about where to put waste processing facilities.

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