The crackerjack news team at our thrice-weekly Pulitzer-Prize winning local newspaper hit us the other day with this headline: “Board Apologizes for Criticism on Working Lands Plan”. But you read into the story, and you find that it’s NOT the board apologizing. It’s County Commissioner Tim Lea, the SMARTEST man EVER to reside within the boundaries of Moore County. What was Tim apologizing for?
Commissioner Tim Lea asked Planning Director Debra Ensminger and Long-Range Planner Jeremy Rust to come front and center and apologized for criticism leveled at the department at a previous meeting.
At issue was whether a proposed Working Lands Protection Plan had been given adequate exposure before it became the subject of a public hearing.
“I realize your job is tough,” said Lea, a former Planning Board chairman who said he recognizes the amount of work that goes into the planning process.
Lea asked Ensminger and Rust to continue in the direction advised by the commissioners at their previous meeting.
After the meeting, Lea distributed to the news media copies of a project history on the working lands proposal, dating back to Dec. 3, 2007, when the commissioners unanimously authorized the county manager to support a grant from the BRAC Regional Task Force to work on a strategy for working lands protection.
Mentioned in the history were weekly updates on the plan and the efforts of a consensus working group helping to develop the proposal. The updates were presented to the Board of Commissioners by the county administration on a weekly basis beginning in July.
In addition, the former planning director, Joey Raczkowski, covered the plan in a presentation to the board at its budget planning retreat in January.
Despite this exposure, the proposal ran into opposition from a couple of farmers during the hearing at the Nov. 15 board meeting.
Key objections focused on a five-mile buffer zone in which land would be conserved because of proximity to Fort Bragg. The buffer, if approved, would mean that owners of almost 40,000 acres would be unable to sell their land for any purpose other than farming and forestry.
Concern was also expressed that the plan might do away with the present-use tax valuation program, a system that requires the tax office to value land used for agricultural purposes according to that usage, rather than a higher value that might apply when the land is adjacent to land valued more highly for potential development.
With those objections in mind, the commissioners agreed to table action until a future meeting and directed the planning staff to work out an understanding with landowners raising questions about the plan. The subject was not on the agenda for the Dec. 6 meeting.
The Working Lands Protection Plan was initiated in the wake of BRAC — the Base Realignment and Closure program calling for a major expansion of neighboring Fort Bragg. The expansion is expected to have a significant effect on the economy and development of 11 counties in the area surrounding the military reservation.
In reference to the proposed buffer zone, the introduction to the plan says:?“The five-mile area of the county is important to the operations at Fort Bragg because it is within an area of special-use airspace, where pilots train for low-level flights. As a consequence of those training exercises, the area is also an aircraft accident potential zone.”
Tommy Davis, a known mouthpiece and apologist for Lea, had this to say on The Pilot’s web site:
“At issue was whether a proposed Working Lands Protection Plan had been given adequate exposure before it became the subject of a public hearing.”
Sounds to me like more of the same when it comes to transparency. Thanks to Commission Lea for coming forward and shedding some light on this subliminal plan…
Unlike The Pilot, I decided to talk with someone NOT AFFILIATED with Tim Lea and his self-promotion machine. A regular reader of this site, who is well-placed within county government, gave me her take on this episode:
“The board of commissioners came down on the crew at Planning for ‘engaging in the development of working lands’ without board direction. The board soon thereafter learned that Commissioner Lea was part of the effort in 2007 to initiate this thing. This is a whole new layer of bureaucracy and red tape added to the planning process. It’s arguably a hassle to landowners and a waste of taxpayer money. I guess Mr. Lea’s apology came about because he ‘forgot’ his own role in this mess.”
This “Timmy!” moment has been brought to you by the Amnesia Prevention Society ….