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Back in Touch After the Summer–and the Election!

Horrors! No posts since Memorial Day. But I’m back, driven by the election to closely follow what may happen to America’s land use and environmental institutions…all of which ultimately have an impact on our everyday lives, gardens, conservation areas, oceans, beaches, flora and fauna. In the politically conservative years to come, it will also be fascinating (hopefully not horrifying) to witness our country’s reaction to climate change.

Each of us is witnessing the intersection of these events and their policy implications. For example, John and I attended a wedding in Charleston, SC, on October 1st. The city’s tour guides spoke about plans to build a 20′ sea wall because the ocean is rising so quickly. Local TV news was broadcasting a weeklong special on the seacoast floods that occurred in 2015. And then five days after we left–the disaster of Hurricane Matthew and its weeks of flooding.

I know I feel so much safer here in Chicago. Even so, our town (Lake Forest) has written a Sustainability Plan. What does it obligate our family to do to pollute less?

I’m sure each of us has strong feelings about spending tax dollars on things like bridges along the outer banks of North Carolina that are continually washing away, or whether the Federal government “overreaches” when it buys land in the west for a National Wildlife Refuge [NWR]. Our family owns a house in Richmond, IL where Hackmatack, one of the nation’s most recent NWR’s, is located. Residents’ feelings run strong, for and against, this Federal designation, but until this year I would not have expected armed militias to stage a takeover. But if it can happen in Oregon, it could happen here. Yikes.

I want to be informed and knowledgeable on these issues.

I intend to highlight some of these stories in a way that allows us to think about what we would do as Administrator of the USEPA or Secretary of Interior, or simply if I want to call a Senator and make a comment about how our financial resources should be deployed on behalf of our natural resources. I hope to lace these stories with the history of our conservation and environmental protection movement. I have many books to recommend to you. My most recent favorite: Rightful Heritage by Douglas Brinkley. Did you know that Franklin Roosevelt’s passion was planting trees across the U.S.? (Hard not to think that planting trees is probably the way to “make America great again.”)

And of course, you and I will continue to share stories of photos of gardens and the gardeners who make them. Happy Thanksgiving! ##

How Far From a River Do I Want to Build? Ask Some Regular Americans

NOTE: I wrote this a few weeks ago and sent it to the NYTimes in the hope that it might get published. Well, it didn’t (altho it would have been nice to hear “no” from them, but anyway). So here it is for you to read. I hope you like it better than they did! If you want a great example of American “think” about property rights versus sensible land use policy in these United States, do what I did this morning. Open the NY Times, read scary stories about record flooding along the Mississippi River and its tributaries (and we thought 1993 floods were bad), send $100 to the American Red Cross, and then google, “how far from a river do I want to build?”. The first result was on city-data.com, a website on which seven typical Americans posted their answers to the problematic distance-from-river question, originally posed by “potatosoup”:

From UCONN97 [probably a professor, albeit one that flunked spelling]: “I would start with your town. They should have fema maps for your location that can tell you flood info. I would find out if its even buildable before contacting a contractor. Also, be aware of how where you build may incure additional insurance costs. Finally, if you do decide to build on this land, I am hoping that the land slopes towards the water. I would incorporate a walkout basement type of design into your home. This way if there is a flood, your basement and mechanicals might take on water, but it might not neccessarily be a catastrophic loss.”

Okay, fairly rational answer, but UCONN97 assumes that there is some hilly terrain on which to perch potatosoup’s walkout basement and its no-big-costly-deal mechanical systems. That might be true at hilly UCONN, but probably not in the flatlands of the Midwest. Next, from desertsun in Houston, Texas:

“I know for example in NJ it is illegal to build on a flood plain or what might be labeled  wetlands. And wetlands can be simply defined by the type of vegetation growing there. Hopefully you are talking about a place not so burdened with govt communist restrictions. Personally I would want to build over the river as a first choice or on the river edge as a 2nd choice. For those who fear mother nature, build on high ground near as possible to the river. Get the house up some but to me building on piers such as you see in any coastal developed area is unattractive”.

I suspect that “desertsun” moved to Texas (which now allows you to pack your gun visibly) from New Jersey, that “place so burdened with govt communist restrictions.” Maybe desertsun believes that Texas will allow him to build a house “over the river as a first choice or on the river edge as a 2nd choice”. All I know for sure is this: Desertsun, please never ever get appointed to a local planning & zoning board, even in Texas. “Cosmic” [location unnamed, but then again, he’s c.o.s.m.i.c.] offers us insight into the chicanery of the real estate industry when it comes to buying close to a river:

“The first part is buying the land and being led to believe that it is buildable. Lot of those games probably being run. Reason the land is for sale. If there has been floods in the area also beware FEMA may have made the place a permit nightmare. That happened down on the Ohio River in some counties. They were pretty laid back in terms of regulations, permits, etc. Had some big floods, FEMA came in and then demanded very, very anal building regulations. Know this one contractor who moved up to my county. Sezs [sic] could not even think about making a living there, anything required a zillion pieces of paper. Do not assume because the land is there it can be built on. NEVER, NEVER trust them realtor types. You may very well find out after the fact the horrible jam you are in. There may even be houses directly in the area, does not mean you can ever build another. Was out to see a buddy I grew up with couple weeks back in a small town, they have a creek running thru the town. Been a 22 year flood cycle, some very bad. FEMA again demanded some houses be moved, some were jacked up, there are empty lots all over. You never will get permission to build on any of them. Empty land may not be what it appears. FEMA really wants to tear them all down, big fights about it. I would talk to knowledgeable locals first, hopefully some not in the trades or real estate business and get the history / local buzz of what is happening. Can try just the clerks in the Court House, chat them up a bit, ask would they buy that piece of property? Go wary into danger. Too close to the wrong river is definitely standing [sic] into danger.”

“rubytue” posted a screenshot–the part about “never never trust them realtor types”–of cosmic’s reply, and then proceeded to tell a story about how the previous owner of her formerly double lot wanted to [and did!] sell off one lot separately even though the lot didn’t “perc”. Somehow rubytue conflated the dopey yet greedy landowner with “them realtor types”, but this mix-up in rubytue’s logic might have been predicted as rubytue lists her location as “sometimes Maryland, sometimes northern VA, depends on the day of the week”. Or maybe the flood threat. But last, finally, a rationale man, mitch3 from eastern Washington, who posted his answer: “As far as possible, nowhere near it”. Bravo, Mitch! Alas, Mitch must be on a planning and zoning board, for like most land use officials he didn’t really want to make the tough call ie “NO BUILDING ALLOWED. EVER. DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT. THAT MEANS NEVER. EVER NEVER. END OF STORY”. Mitch wavered, dammit. He followed his bold answer and lost all credibility with this pitiful capitulation: “IMHO [in my humble opinion], anyway”.

NY Times writer John Eligon identified the correct issue this morning: “the river levels [are] so high that vexing questions have again been raised about whether anything can be done to truly ease the threat.” Good question, answered by regular Americans uconn97, desertsun, cosmic, rubytue, and mitch3. They appear to hate govt communist restrictions more than they hate paying taxes for cleaning up potatosoup’s flooded riverfront house. IMHO, anyway.#

Too Much Water and a Cold Snap

This morning’s simpering heat, combined with a brief uptick in the wind and quickly clouding dark skies, made it easy to think about the tornadoes that ripped across Oklahoma and Kansas yesterday. Sadly, more tornadoes, hail storms, and slow-moving thunderstorms (ie a lot of rain in one place), including some aimed near Joplin, Missouri and north to Minnesota, may occur today (Monday). Remember that the Chicago region [link to map] is already in a Federal Disaster Zone because of the devastating rain storms of April 18th, just a month ago. Lots of Chicagoans are still mopping up and cleaning out, unfortunately. [Here’s a link about how you can help and/or donate to Chicago flood clean-up efforts by the American Red Cross.]

Profuse blossoms on 2013 fruit trees

Profuse blossoms on 2013 fruit trees

There’s good news and bad news about the amazingly full blossoms you are noticing this year on crabapple trees and other fruit trees.

The good news is that after last year’s sustained cold damage to their blossoms (which killed the apple crop from IL to NY], the trees seemed to cope by becoming ultra-productive in flowering this year. Therefore, states like Michigan, which experienced 27 degrees on May 13th, had their blossoms badly damaged but will likely still have a bountiful fruit crop, although growers in a few local communities where it stayed cold for hours probably got wiped out. Along with fruit growers, other types of nursery crops took a hit. For example, today I went to buy some lemon thyme at Pasquesi’s Garden Center in Lake Bluff, IL, and was surprised that there was not one thyme plant of any kind to be found. Why? Because Pasquesi’s Michigan-based herb supplier had put its herbs outside and the frost burned them up. They have to start slips all over again. So please be patient, customers! P.S. Doesn’t it make you frantic and sad to visit Home Depot in April and see them putting basil and hibiscus, among other tender plants, outside just so that they can get killed by cold? ##