In memory of Barbara Lollar

Until her untimely passing on December 22nd, Barb Lollar was an esteemed member of the Indianapolis community.  She was a fellow paddler, and was at her happiest when paddling her solo canoe on Indiana’s flowing streams, according to her husband.  She was an environmental attorney (passionately representing the public interest) for several agencies, including the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers.  She enjoyed visiting our national parks with her family.  I sent the following passage to her husband and to Governor Eric Holcomb who also attended her recent memorial service.

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                                         In memory of Barbara Lollar

                 An excerpt from The Hour of Land by Terry Tempest Williams

                       (reflections from Theodore Roosevelt National Park)

 

“Sitting by the river – this meandering river — … I am Theodore Roosevelt watching the currents as grief gathers like a whirlpool and finally flows downriver. 

Life and death are kneaded back into the accumulated soil of the prairie.

The personal shock and assault of death that drops us to our knees in time becomes a tapping, a turning, a gesture like any other – we are not special, just part of the river, rushing by me now.

Our fear of death enslaves us to the illusion that we will live forever.  Theodore Roosevelt knew firsthand that we do not.  And so he lived large and he never forgot the source of his own healing and strength.

“There can be no greater issue than of conservation in this country“, he wrote.

He was a man of his word. During his administration, Theodore Roosevelt was responsible for protecting 150 national forests, 51 federal bird preserves, 4 federal wildlife preserves, 18 national monuments, and 5 national parks, 230 million acres in all.”

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VA schedules public meeting to review environmental study for new Crown Hill cemetery site

In the “we told you so” department, yesterday I received official notice  from the Veterans Administration that it has scheduled a public meeting for January 23rd at 6:00 p.m. at the Indiana War Memorial in downtown Indianapolis.  The purpose is to present the proposed site, describe the VA’s draft Environmental Assessment and proposed FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact), and receive public comments.  The administrative record will remain open until February 12, 2018.

This is the same site which we suggested to CHC’s Keith Norwalk on August 10, 2016 as the obvious alternative to his destructive plan to eliminate 15 acres of mature woods. Well, the Crown Hill board was too resolute (i.e. willful) to consider the obvious alternative as presented by the community.  So we were forced to go to battle for 8 months before Senator Donnelly and Representative Carson persuaded Crown Hill and the VA to come to their senses and re-locate the site— to the immediate east in an open field.

The text of the VA’s email appears below.  It also contained a link for the draft Environmental Assessment report—

https://www.cem.va.gov/CEM/docs/EA/Crown_Hill_Draft_EA.pdf

The VA’s notice–

“In May of 2017, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Cemetery Administration (NCA) announced that it would pursue a land exchange of a 14.75 wooded lot VA currently owns for an adjacent parcel of comparable size owned by Crown Hill Cemetery.

The Administration completed a Draft Environmental Assessment (DEA) for the proposed property acquisition for cemetery expansion and development of Crown Hill National Cemetery. NCA plans to issue a Finding of No Significant Impact following a 30-day comment period, ending on February 12, 2018.

Additionally, VA will host a public meeting January 23 at the Indiana War Memorial at 6 p.m. to present environmental findings, preliminary project plans and obtain community feedback.

For additional information on the Crown Hill Land Exchange, please view a letter from the Interim Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs published in May, 2017.”

 

Crown Hill woods note– Ludicrous admonition from big pusher– “Don’t push it!”

I had an encounter with one of the chief promoters of the destruction of Crown Hill’s north woods last week which is merits memorialization.

Having breakfast at a local eatery, I saw Gordon Wishard at a nearby table.  Wishard has been on the Crown Hill Board for many years.  He was one of the chief pushers of the cemetery’s ill-fated 2006-07 plan for private commercial and residential development, and I bumped into him on several occasions during that prolonged battle.  During our brief conversations at that time he was cordial but unsympathetic to the idea of forest preservation.  He recently retired as a senior partner at the big Ice Miller law firm practicing corporate law.  He’s definitely not used to hearing direct push-back from community folks or tree-huggers.  And he’s probably not accustomed to being on the losing end of things when his clients holds most of the cards economically and politically.

Last week, I greeted him in a friendly way w/ a handshake and said I wanted to thank you for relocating the site for the planned VA columbaria (to the immediate east where there would be almost no impact).  He gave me a sour look and tried to silence my comments  with a stern “Don’t push it” admonition.  I smiled and replied: “Don’t push it??  Are you kidding? We were forced to battle your ill-conceived project for eight months”.  To which he again sternly (and theatrically–in a lower voice), warned “Don’t push it”.

The unmitigated gall of some imperious Crown Hill board members!  They try to unnecessarily destroy a forest, causing the community 8 months of angst, labor, and expense. And then, when called to account in a minor way, they resort to a ridiculous, theatrical “Don’t push it”.

Would it have been so hard for him to graciously, if not begrudgingly, acknowledge the outcome with something like “I’m glad it ultimately worked out for you and Crown Hill”?  No class. And certainly no heart.

The First U.S. Rights-Of-Nature Symposium

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) sponsored a terrific conference yesterday– The First U.S. Rights-Of-Nature Symposium at Tulane Law School in New Orleans.

The video is posted on the CELDF’s website at https://celdf.org/.

If rivers, forests, species, and ecosystems had enforceable legal rights, perhaps we’d be preserving, instead of systematically destroying them.

Perhaps we should apply the “Viking way” to improve judicial decisions about our air, land. and water?

 

Historian Neil Oliver authored an interesting 2013 book The Vikings— A New History which described a legal system in ancient Iceland controlled by a single elected “law speaker”, but also voted upon by all free men. Here’s the   pertinent excerpt:

“The Iceland Althing met for 15 days every year, at the time of the summer solstice, and one of the most important tasks was the election of the sogumadhr—the law speaker. For a society without a written language, memory was key, and the man who could recite the law acted with the authority of a judge.  A written body of laws emerged in Iceland eventually—called , inexplicably, the Gregas or Grey Goose law—but at first the whole lot of it was learned by heart and remembered by just one man at a time.

Each party to a dispute… agreed to accept whatever judgement was handed down. As well as the wisdom of the law speaker, decisions depended upon the votes of all free men. In a system that was essentially one man, one-vote, majority and consensus were all.

By the time the German historian Adam of Bremen came to write about the ways of the Icelanders in the second half of the eleventh century, he was able to say: “They have no king, only the law.”

Civilizations and legal systems have advanced since those times.  We no longer live in small groups and villages and relationships have become more complex.

Nevertheless, it’s interesting to muse about what results might be  produced if judges’ decisions would be subject to popular ratification.  For instance, what if U.S District Court’s chief judge Jane Magnus-Stinson’s January, 2017 ruling denying the requested injunction (seeking an order to temporarily stay the planned destruction of the mature woods at Crown Hill cemetery in Indianapolis) had been subject to popular review and vote?  Would her ruling have been sustained?  Would the people have allowed the destruction of the mature woods to needlessly proceed?  Not very likely.  Not if they were adequately educated about the issues, the facts, and the alternatives, as well as the appealing prospect of the emerging legal doctrine of the inherent rights of nature.

Perhaps we should consider amending our judicial procedures to follow the Viking system to provide for popular review, especially in cases of natural heritage and ecological protection and sustainability.

Crown Hill Cemetery’s board of old-line elites says it feels unfairly put-upon by environmentalists  —  “Cry me a river!”

Following the welcome decision by the VA, announced in May, to relocate its columbaria cemetery, it’s reported that the Crown Hill board of directors is supposedly greatly irked that their destructive plan was rebuffed, i.e. reversed by the VA.  They claim they “feel beaten-up”.  Part of their victim-card-playing angst, if not merely ego-driven resentment over receiving another community black-eye, is that the opposition (the ad hoc Alliance of Crown Hill Neighbors and other organizations and individuals) to their destructive plan was conducted by unruly environmentalists sharing a populist/communitarian, and nature-oriented philosophy. Such an indignity and affront to these smug politically-connected elites who are long accustomed to getting their way in Indianapolis.

Some Crown Hill board members have also cried that they believe their private property rights were trammeled. That’s the same-ol’ baloney that their then-attorney, Steven Mears, unsuccessfully argued before the Metropolitan Development Commission in March, 2007 when their private commercial development petition was denied.  However, they conveniently neglect to mention that they operate an IRS-designated tax-exempt entity. They pay no Federal or state corporate income or sales tax nor local real estate taxes.  Yet the Board has operated in a demonstrably anti-public way, such as little public transparency and egregious violation of public water management requirements. Also, cemetery plans and policies appear to be greatly influenced by Gibraltar Remembrance Services, LLC which is a private contractor for cemetery services (via a 2007 management agreement).  Curiously, Gibraltar was described by the cemetery’s president (Keith Norwalk) late last year as the cemetery’s “parent company”. Exactly how Gibraltar transitioned from a vendor of services in 2007 to the “parent company” of Crown Hill in 2016 remains a mystery to the general public. If it’s true.

It’s apparent that the check & balance supplied by two of our Congressional representatives (Sen. Donnelly and Rep. Carson) was instrumental in “persuading” the VA and Crown Hill to agree to move the location a few hundred feet to the east to an open field.  Previously neither entity had shown any interest in such a compromise with the community which had not only proposed the better site (in the same cemetery) but also a bona fide offer of purchase from an established local conservation trust.

I bumped into one of the Crown Hill board members (Gordon Wishard) at a restaurant in February.  We had a brief, civil conversation, but he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pointedly remind me, with typical attorney smugness, of Federal District Court’s chief judge Jane Magnus-Stinson’s January ruling denying our petition for temporary injunction against the VA.  Fortunately for the forest and the community, that unduly deferential-to-the-administrative-agency ruling was later rendered moot by the legislator-derived resolution in May (forged by the work of Sen. Donnelly and Rep. Carson) between the VA and Crown Hill to simply move the planned cemetery a few hundred feet to the east.  Thank goodness for the responsiveness and concern of these two legislators— a needed check on the increasingly deferential judiciary which is slouching towards Nineveh (the former Assyrian city which turned to dust after outstripping its natural resources) by rulings which degrade our natural environment.

So, to the poor-me laments from the poor beleaguered board and management of Crown Hill cemetery/Gibraltar, I reply: “Cry me a river!”

 

 

Intense, incessant citizen pressure our only salvation

For the record– serial failures by myriad public agencies and private entities to protect Crown Hill’s woods confirms Richard Ottinger’s Earth Day profundity about the importance of citizen pressure–

At the behest of two congressional representatives (Rep Carson and Sen Donnelly), in May, 2017 the VA and Crown Hill announced an agreement to correct their unfortunate mistake by relocating the VA’s planned cemetery to an adjacent open field, thus sparing the woods and finally validating the protests and intense work of many hundreds of citizens over 8 months to persuade the various deciders about the value of the endangered woodland.  This agreement followed a series of failures by public agencies and several private entities over those months.  To record and memorialize, here is a list of the entities– most of whom/which failed to properly serve and protect both the public interest and the interest of the plants and animals at the site.  Limited space dictates that it’s primarily just a listing without detail explaining the various failures.

  1. Crown Hill Board of Directors and executive management, Gibraltar Remembrance Services, LLC
  2. The Veterans Administration/National Cemetery Administration
  3. The authors of the September, 2015 Final Environmental Assessment— ASC Group/Indianapolis, Enfuse Environmental of Pine beach, New Jersey, and Concourse Federal Group (all are VA contractors)
  4. Indiana Department of Natural Resources/Division of Forestry
  5. Indiana Department of Environmental Management/Office of Water Quality
  6. The National Environmental Policy Act, the federal Administrative Procedures Act, and local land use/environmental plans
  7. Federal judge Jane Magnus-Stinson, ruling to deny protesters’ sought-after injunction
  8. Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett (initially balked, causing much citizen angst, but finally stepped up)
  9. Rep. Andre Carson (initially balked, causing much angst, but finally stepped up)
  10. City Councilor Joseph Simpson (defiantly oppositional to protesters throughout)
  11. Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood Association leadership (board president Clark Kirkman— the only Board member voting to oppose saving the woods
  12. Print organizations– The Indianapolis Star and Indy Midtown magazine (a private commercial publication) – minimal coverage (by the Star) and biased/ distorted yellow journalism promoting the pro-forest destruction position of the VA, Crown Hill, and Midtown, Inc. (by Indy Midtown magazine)

Rep. Richard Ottinger’s statement (From his speech at the first Earth Day in Washington, D.C) certainly rings true today, considering the thousands of hours of citizen advocacy which had to be applied to save Crown Hill’s north woods:

“Intense, incessant citizen pressure is the only thing that will save us.  We must assume that we are surrounded by rapacious developers, callous industrialists, inept public agencies, and insensitive politicians, and that our only salvation is in our two hands.”  Richard L. Ottinger, U.S. Representative, speech, Aril 22, 1970

Equally resonant is P.J. O’Rourke’s question:  “Our government: what the %^&* do they do all day, and why does it cost so goddamned much money”?  (Parliament of Whores)

8-23-17