from PRFAs Twelfth Annual National Conference on Private Property Rights
October 18, 2008

Foreign Intrusion on County Soil—A Zoning Tool

Albert L. Wassenhove
Retired Business Executive, Ghent, New York

Madam President, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, it’s indeed an honor for me to share this podium with so many of you folks who have dedicated thousands, literally thousands of hours to the great cause of the preservation of property rights. Today I have been humbled, very humbled, and I’m glad I had the interlude between luncheon and the distinguished and prestigious award that you gave me, Madam President, to now, because I needed the time, quite honestly, to regain my composure. Because I told you earlier, I’m a fairly modest critter, sometimes called a maverick and that’s not a bad title either.

You know, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton all had their opening act. Today I’ve been designated as the closing act. I’m the closer, Roman, for you. So I’m going to get right to it, ladies and gentlemen. But before I do let me just say this: I would like you, along with me, at this very moment, to give a standing ovation to this lady. She doesn’t need the exercise but please do stand up for a moment, please do give a standing ovation to Mrs. LaGrasse.

I first met Carol and Peter LaGrasse on the evening of May 22, 2006 in the Town of Austerlitz, New York, at a capacity event at the Spencertown firehouse. Our topic that evening was “Zoning Is Not the Answer.” Now, at the very end, she entertained questions. I didn’t have a question, I rose to the occasion and said, “I’d like to make an observation.” My observation was this to her, “You are a breath of fresh air and music to my ears.”

In June of 2007 I received an information sheet from Property Rights Foundation that had announced a new wave of UNESCO Heritage Sites. The number was 36, I believe, that were to be added to twenty such sites that we already had so designated. Well, folks, the name of Olana caught my eye.

I’ll ad lib this if I may. I walked out in the lobby before. The young lady turned around and she said, “You’re the Olana guy!” It happens that the county she came from, which is Greene County, is in the viewshed of Olana. Today at lunch I had the pleasure of sitting at a table of our Columbia County residents, which really surprised me.

Now, I did a double read of that information and then I began a series of telephone calls to several town supervisors who I personally know through my many years of involvement in our county. I wanted to see if they had been approached by Olana to support their desire for an international Heritage Site status. What do you suppose I learned? Sure enough, a resolution was sought and in some cases approved by the towns. A resolution, but not one word mentioned UNESCO or the United Nations. Wow! Wasn’t that a sly move?

The Columbia County Board of Supervisors had likewise been approached to pass a resolution of support. I immediately began to commence written commentary. I spoke then to the chairman of the board of supervisors, Jim Keegan, who said to me, “Nothing, absolutely nothing about the United Nations or UNESCO was ever mentioned.”

“Perhaps,” he said to me, “we should check with our county legal counsel and see if we can rescind the resolution.”

Now, folks, came the subject of my article, my commentary, which I guess is a reprint in each of your folders today. The subject of some of this was “Foreign Intrusion on County Soil,” and it was born, thanks to the excellent rapport that I do enjoy with the news media, both talk radio, our daily press and our weekly publications.

The Columbia County planning department was assigned the task by Chairman Keegan to investigate the potential impacts that this proposal would have.

In October of 2007, one year ago, the Office of International Affairs of the National Park Service rejected Olana’s request. Success is sweet, folks. Sometimes it’s very rare. But I want to tell you, when it happens it’s sweet. Our region, no region, indeed, needs another layer of land control by overly zealous preservationists.

Now I offer a most sincere tip of the hat to my friend Roland Vosburgh. I’d like you to stand for a moment, our own, our very own Columbia County planner. I must share with you a brief letter that I received a few months later dated April 2008:

“Just a congratulation note to go to you for all the hard work and diligence on the Olana project. It seems to have well paid off. Sorry it took so long for me to get back to you. I passed the word around to my farming community, and also into a three-town farming grant. I was involved with Roland Vosburgh, our Columbia County planner, and he did a fine job with a 15-page report outlining property rights and how detrimental Olana’s international status would be. Sincerely, Harold Lent.”

Well, thanks to so many folks, Harold Lent of Germantown, thanks to the Property Rights Foundation, to my friends in the news media, Freedom Alliance, yes, Ollie North. Ollie North was informed of this effort, because you know his position on the United Nations. And to my other dedicated elected officials, I pay honor and due respect for their participation and their standing firm in the rights of our people. I’m only a small spoke, as I said in the luncheon, ladies and gentlemen, a very small spoke in the wheel of sweet success that we attempted to protect our sovereignty and our freedom.

Now, if there’s a single person remaining here today in attendance, that has not entered the fray of involvement, let me tell you, and I quote, in the words of Dr. Robert Schuller, “Beginning, beginning is half done. Nothing is impossible. I would attempt to do something and fail rather than to do nothing and succeed.”

In closing, I’m quoting a hero of mine, General Douglas MacArthur, who said, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” Well, you’re looking at one old soldier who’s not quite ready to fade away just yet. As surely as the sun continues to rise in the east, let us all leave here with a resolve firmer than ever to advocate for the rights of the property owner, the little guy that’s helped to build our great nation, with the hope that our better and perhaps our best days may yet lie ahead of us.

Thank you for this very great honor. I feel that I have reached the pinnacle, perhaps the top, of civic involvement in the honor that you have accorded me today. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. God bless you, Carol, Peter, and members of this great organization, the Property Rights Foundation of America. Thank you.

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