Food for thought: Time for a White River Commons?

     As we celebrate and reflect this Thanksgiving, we should also consider that perhaps the time is ripe for a forward-looking, “21st century” idea– a White River/Mounds Commons.
     Since 1979, various entities have put forth plans for an enhanced, and protected, White River corridor.  In 1979, the IDNR published an extensive study of the recreational value of the White River.  In 1985, IDNR published a guidebook of recreational and cultural and community attractions along the river.  But unfortunately, the IDNR has not followed through by implementing its own recommendations for land acquisition (from its 1979 plan).
      Last year, in response to the Corporation for Economic Development’s announced plan, the Heart of the River, a citizens’ coalition, formed in opposition to that plan.  To date, 16 statewide and local conservation organizations have announced positions in strong opposition to the reservoir.  Also last year, the HTR began work on obtaining the designation as a Blue Trail by the American Rivers organization.  Last September, the Hoosier Environmental Council, in conjunction with the HTR, proposed an alternative to a reservoir– a linear park (“greenway”).
     Perhaps it’s time to consider a bolder initiative– the creation of a White River/Mounds Commons.
      Several years ago, I attended a conference in Bloomington, titled “Restoring the Commons”.  Speakers included David Bollier (author of several great books about the Commons, including Silent Theft– The Private Plunder of Our Common Wealth (2003), and his 2014 book Think Like a Commoner– A Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons.  Also presenting were Scott Russell Sanders, who has written extensively about community and protection of our common wealth, and Elinor Ostrom, who subsequently received a Nobel Prize in Economics for her research in how communities successfully manage common-pool resources.  These and other speakers discussed the need and possibilities for adapting an ancient form of community ownership and management, the public commons, to better protect our environment and increase democracy.
     I’ll not attempt here to fully describe the possibilities of establishing a Commons in one form or another.  According to David Bollier (2014), “There is no master inventory of commons.  They can arise whenever a community decides it wishes to manage a resource in a collective manner, with special regard for equitable access, use and sustainability.”
     For thousands of years preceding European occupation and extirpation of the native tribes, the White River provided a Common Wealth to sustain those populations. Perhaps we should now consider modern adaptations of those indigenous ways. The alternative is to always be subject to the exploitive impulses of, and attempted enclosures (of the Commons), by the growth-obsessed forces of the industrial economy.

Two illegal levees on White River near Muncie seek DNR permits

DNR’s most recent Public Notice of applications for Construction in a Floodway contains an application (FW- 27745) which is an after-the-fact application for two levees on White River near Muncie which were illegally constructed without the required permit.

        Like all levees, these two levees have reduced the capacity of the river corridor to accommodate and moderate floodwaters.  We shall see if the DNR considers them to be in violation of the quantitative maximum allowable increase of flood elevation and deny permits. In all likelihood, and as experience shows, DNR will approve the applications as having minimal impact on flood elevations, and perhaps even give the applicant the usual tap on the wrist for not receiving advance approval from DNR.
        Part of the CED”s package of claimed benefits of its planned dam and reservoir is for “flood control”.  But perhaps if we all just played by the rules instead of flaunting them, and not building levees whenever we want, we’d already have effective flood control — the natural variety provided by the floodways and floodplains of intact stream corridors — instead of speciously claiming, as the CED is doing, that flood control will be enhanced by building a stunningly expensive and unneeded dam and reservoir.
      Here are the details from the DNR Public Notice:
West Fork White River
Applicant: Gary V Greenlee
4024 South Burlington Drive
Muncie, IN 47302-8300
Project Description:  Two levees were constructed approximately 129′ long and 167′ long along the southwest bank of the West Fork White River. The crest of both levees are located at an elevation of approximately 954.6′, NAVD. The 5′ wide crests will be covered with vegetation. Details of the project are contained in information and
plans received at the Division of Water on November 3, 2014.
Location:  4024 South Burlington Drive
 near Muncie, Center Township, Delaware County
Section 25, T 20N, R 10E, Muncie East Quadrangle
Quad Code: 4008523
UTM Coordinates: Downstream 4446446 North, 642071 East

Our meddling, exploitive species personality

I’ve been reading Diane Ackerman’s fine new book The Human Age. In the conclusion, she makes an interesting observation about our penchant for tinkering (and destroying):

“It’s time we acknowledge our personality– not just as individuals, but as a species.  … our personality as a species includes wide streaks of tinkering and meddling.  It is an important part of our character; we’re unable to leave anything alone. Let’s fess up to being the interfering creatures we are, indefatigably restless, easily bored, and fond of turning everything into amusement, fashion, or toys.  We Anthrops can be lumbering, clumsy, and immature. We’re also easily distracted, sloppy as a hound dog’s kiss, and we hate picking up after ourselves.  Without really meaning to, we have nearly emptied the world’s pantry, left all the taps running, torn the furniture, strewn our old toys where they’re becoming a menace, polluted and spilled and generally messed up our planetary home.”

The Human Age– The World Shaped by Us  by Diane Ackerman, 2014
In addition to the motive of economic development and personal financial gain for a relatively few, perhaps this helps explain why the Corporation for Economic Development is so intent on messing with the White RIver.  Perhaps part of the answer is provided by Ackerman– so we can also continue to leave all the taps running.

Another early IDNR document promotes the White River corridor

​In our research perambulations, we discovered another early DNR document which reinforces the idea of the White River as a high quality recreational resource. It’s a Guide to The White River– From Muncie to Martinsville.  It was printed by DNR in 1985, just about 5 years following DNR’s major 2-volume plan titled The Recreational Potential of the White River, July, 1979.
The Guide is a 72-page pocket-size (4″ x 8″) compilation of all of the attractions and natural amenities along the river corridor.  It includes natural features, recreational opportunities, and historical and cultural amenities along the river corridor.  It lists and describes these, section by section, and includes maps and photos.
Back in 1979 and 1985, the term “greenway” hadn’t yet been used in the parlance of parks planners and politicians.  The greenway movement didn’t materialize in the U.S. until the late 1980’s and the published books about greenways started being produced after 1990. Thus neither of the two DNR documents use the term “greenway”, although its plans essentially propose what we now refer to as such.
My speculation is that the Guide was produced by IDNR for the purpose of keeping its 1979 plan “alive” because the politicians at the time (the Reagan era) in Indiana were philosophically averse to creating additional public park lands.
Most of the data in the Guide was compiled in 1984 by fourth year landscape architecture students at Ball State University in Muncie. As stated in the Acknowledgements section, “Without their work, this book would not have been published”.

A response to a call for civility

Readers of several Indiana newspapers were admonished by journalist John Krull in a recent column about the planned dam on White River to avoid elevated emotions, yelling, and resorting to rhetoric.  That admonition seems a bit contrived and patronizing considering that there have been no raised voices that I’m aware of in the year and a half that the destructive plan has been critiqued and criticized.
Yes, of course, we should all be respectful and civil and not attack or vllify those with different goals and adverse financial interests. I’d posit that the dam’s opponents have taken pains to be especially respectful.
Sometimes poetry can help to mitigate pent up emotions.
Last weekend at a naturalists’ conference, I picked up a copy of Another Way, a poetry chapbook by Thomas Tokarski.  Thomas and wife Sandra led the fight against the new-terrain I-69 which several former governors pushed through despite its many drawbacks.
In Red Poppies, Tokarski obviously takes aim at the proponents of such destructive schemes.
“I ask him to see the universe,
the creatures of the forests and fields,
but he is afraid of his uncertainties,
afraid of silence, darkness
and the caverns of the night sky,
afraid of being alone.
Proudly self-assured in his crowd,
consequences of his creed unexamined,
nothing is beyond him but humility,
and responsibility when things go wrong.
His eyes see what can be used, soon,
his mind focused on a prosperity
that comes as quickly as a riot.
Looking past the reason in trees,
cleansing waters,
the music of grasses and pure air,
the complexity and mystery lurking
in quiet places, he calculates wealth
in the loss of all that put us here,
all that could take us beyond here.
To his vision of perfect control,
where the earth becomes a decoration
for man’s pleasure,
while the essence is covered
with flashing lights and concrete,
he asks, in his kindly voice,
that we all submit.
And the red poppies that grow wild
among the stones
are invisible to him.”
Red Poppies reminded me of Pattiann Rogers’ powerful poem,
The Nature of the Huckster: 
“Put on his garment of rain,
came swaying in silver across the garden,
his fragrance of clarity preceding him.
Put on his garment of theft,
stole the seeds of the pecan,
the eggs of the horseshoe crab,
roe of cod, roe of mackerel,
stole the children’s gold and purple marbles,
stole breath, stole fever.
Filled his pockets with blood.
Filled his pockets with charity.
Emptied his pockets of confetti-feathers and bones.
Emptied his pockets of beetle menageries.
Over his mantle of frost,
donned his mantle of sun.
Over his many-colored coat of deception,
put on his many-colored robe of verisimilitude.
Under his attire of aridity,
wore his thunder cloak of deluge.
Put on his robe of celibacy
Put on his jewelry of prostitution.
Traded his garment of frivolity.
Bartered his overcoat of constancy.
Shucked his shawl of grief.
Threw off his hood of sanity
Under his silk cape of surrender,
clothed himself in his steel vestment of siege.
Arrayed himself in his garment of disdain.
Covered himself in his rags of spring.
Wrapped himself in his blankets of faith.
Discarded his garment of life.
Donned his garment of death.
Put on his garment of matter.
Took off his garment of light.
Discarded his garment of decay.
Put on his garment of lies.
Paraded back and forth, plain and invisible
in his ruse of apparel,
hawking, all the while, himself. Take him.”
Pattiann Rogers

“What has changed?” is pertinent question

    Last weekend, INPAWS (Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society convened its annual meeting and conference at the Monroe County conference center.
More than 300 attended the event titled Embracing Indiana’s Conservation Challenges.
    H. William Weeks was one of the stellar line-up of presenters.  His presentation was titled The Shaping Intelligence of Nature.  A future post will report his insightful remarks.
    I’ve been reading his 1997 book Beyond The Ark– Tools for an Ecosystem Approach to Conservation, which he wrote while serving as the chief executive of the The Nature Conservancy (the national office).
    In a concluding chapter, Weeks calls for a new way of operating — a “postexploitive capitalism” to change the relationship between businesses and the environment.
Much has changed in our environment since 1997.  For instance, with the impacts of advancing climate change, our very sustainability is now regarded as uncertain.  What has changed in our corporate business practices/models?  Has the past 17 years resulted in significant forward progress toward a postexploitive capitalism?
    Those are complicated questions for another time and for more qualified observers. But one can’t help thinking about the planned dam and reservoir in this context.  Is the proponent CED (Corporation for Economic Development) doing anything other than just pushing another highly destructive and exploitive project– one which would decimate an entire riverine ecosystem in order to promote more economic development in central Indiana and to facilitate continued profligate water consumption and lawn irrigation by wealthy suburban communities?
    Another speaker at the INPAWS conference was Dr. Gerould Wilhelm. I remember his address at the 1999 Indiana Governor’s Conference on the Environment (this was back in the days when Indiana’s governors were concerned about our environment).  In fact, i replay my DVD of his recorded remarks from time to time. The conference was about “Smart Growth”, and Wilhelm addressed its opposite “dumb growth” about which many dysfunctional and destructive landscape design practices were cited. One of these was the way in which our contemporary development practices consider rain water to be a waste product to be quickly disposed rather than the aqueous medium upon which all life depends.  He also called for a sweeping reform of our ecologically destructive practices.
    When I recently mentioned Wilhelm’s 1999 remarks to one of my skeptical friends, who holds a landscape design and natural resources degree from Ball State, she immediately challenged me: “What has changed?”.   Again, I’m not qualified to provide a comprehensive answer of how our awareness and practices might have improved in the intervening years.  But it certainly seems as though we still have an abundance of continuing examples of dumb growth, including the planned reservoir.