If you have recently been hit hard with a property rights issue a project denial by a local zoning board, a rails to trails proposal near your land, a new state park initiative, a frightening-sounding federal program you need to become very knowledgeable in a very great hurry.
Whether or not you're involved with other individuals or an
organization facing the same issue, you can't rely solely on others
or on the media to understand what is happening or what action
Here are five fairly simple steps to give you a start in the critical process of self-education:
1. Start a scrapbook. Paste in news clippings, letters to the editor, magazine articles, internet downloads, flyers whatever you find that is relevant to your particular case. Be sure to date everything, and note the source. You will be creating a valuable documented history. Reread it from time to time, and use it as an educational tool for others to get them up to speed.
2. Begin checking the Legal Notices and Public Notices sections of your local paper. Get in the habit of skimming them for dates of committee meetings, public hearings, proposed local laws, zoning board agendas, formation of advisory boards, eminent domain notices and mark your calendar or datebook. Don't overlook your local free "shopper" tabloid their community calendars sometimes contain items found nowhere else.
3. Go to meetings of local zoning and planning boards,
town and county government, regional advisory boards, state and
federal regulatory agencies. More obscure entities like flood
commissions, agricultural district boards or tourism councils might also be relevant to your particular situation. Keep attending, even if it seems like they're speaking another language. Take note of often-used words, terms and citations of particular laws, and find out what they mean. Pick up their literature and read it; check out their web sites. You'll soon get the hang of the jargon.
4. Poke around in your local library. Find where they keep government documents. You might find planning board minutes, state or federal land management plans, study commission reports, copies of local laws, annual reports and newsletters of all kinds plus back copies of everything and postings of current goings-on. You can also read the publications put out by groups adversarial to your cause, without having to enrich their coffers by buying them. If you have access to a law library or college library, by all means go there too, as they will undoubtedly have a different selection. And of course the Internet has opened up whole other worlds of information you can learn to access.
5. Root around in your county clerk's office. Learn how to look up your own deed, mortgage, mapping and tax information. Then you can check out other ownerships of interest to you. Check the property maps of land slated for acquisition, conservation easement or hiking trail. Find out the price paid for different tracts, and follow the paper trail of property transfers. Look up the names of key adversaries and find out what they own. The office is also a repository for additional government documents, plus things like permits, liens, judgments and court cases; find out what they have and where they're kept.
Any of these steps can lead you into other active roles, such as speaking at those public hearings, creating a newsletter or website, meeting with lawmakers, organizing an activist group or running for office. The initial effort to educate yourself in these complicated and deep-rooted issues will be time well spent, and continuing self-education will make you a force to be reckoned with.
Susan Allen is the publisher of the APA Reporter www.adirondackmaps.com/apar.htm