Monday, March 31, 2008

A New Bill For Nothing In Particular

(Fishers, IN)- I knew this day would come. Our glorious federal government, via the Environmental Protection Agency and the Congress, has instituted something called Phase Two. In a nutshell, Phase Two addresses less egregious environmental hazards than what was addressed in Phase One, but specifically stormwater.

I'm not aware of a single municipality or county government that said, "No Thanks" to the implementation of the federal mandate. By virtue of my old job in the Hamilton County Surveyor's Office, I heard a lot of officials mumble behind closed doors about "environmental bullshit", but nobody stood up in public to give voice to such sentiments.

I've seen some Central Indiana government agencies deal with the implementation of Phase Two concerns addressing stormwater runoff in different ways, most of which are genuinely ineffective at addressing the problem. For if one truly wants to ensure no pollutants enter the waterways, one must ensure that no water enters the waterways.

Sorry, but it's impossible.

Undaunted and doubtless happy enough to create another layer of bureaucracy, the Town of Fishers circulated letters dated January 31, 2008 to property owners advising of a new Stormwater Utility Bill.

Oh, how grand! Residential property owners would be billed $14.85 per quarter.

And what do we get for our money? Pretty much... nothing. From the letter:
According to state and federal law, the Town of Fishers is required to implement the following six minimum control measures in order to protect local water bodies:

1. Public Participation and Involvement
2. Public Education and Outreach
3. Illicit (Illegal) Discharge Detection and Elimination
4. Pollution Prevention/Good Housekeeping
5. Construction Site Runoff Control, and
6. Post-Construction Runoff Control

Allow me to translate:

1. A tent at the Fishers Freedom Fest
2. A pamphlet for the tent at the Fishers Freedom Fest
3. A Rat-Out-Your-Neightbor program and cleanup crew
4. Back to the tent at the Freedom Fest
5. Permits and inspections on construction sites
6. More inspections on the same sites

Here's some more circular mumbo-jumbo from the letter:

What services will I receive as a result of the stormwater utility?
Fees collected through the Stormwater Utility Fee will be utilized to add additional staff and resources necessary to implement and comply with newly mandated stormwater pollution prevention programs. These additional resources will be utilited to help reduce the amount of polluted runoff associated with construction sites through increased plan review and site inspections procedures. Staff will also be charged with reducing the amount in stormwater pollution associated with illegal connections and discharges to the storm sewer by conducting screening of stormwater outfalls and conveyances. Finally, newly generated revenues will also be utilized to implement stormwater planning and implementation projects to improved localized drainage problems throughout the Town.

That's a lot of verbose BS to cut through. Again, I'll translate:

For my money as a residential fee payer, I'll build the local bureaucracy. I'll help hire a plan reviewer and an inspector or two. I'll subsidize the inspection of construction sites- why those building can't shoulder the burden is unknown. If somebody has a septic system mistakenly discharging into the drain, the inspectors will find it and have the property owner make a proper connection. If there's a drainage problem in Fall Creek Township, all of my Delaware Township neighbors and I can help pay for it, Vive Che!

So, why do I have to pay? Beats me. I mean, if I dumped motor oil or paint into the County Regulated Drain in my backyard, I could understand being held responsible for the clean-up. But it's a County Drain, so I would understand paying the County. By the way, I already pay an assessment for that Drain.

So, why this? The street was built without underdrains, so the water isn't being collected at the curb- until it runs all the way down the street to the catch basin. From there, it runs inside a 48" pipe that is underground at my property line, and discharges into- that's right- the County Regulated Drain.

I don't have loose soil. I don't have erosion. I don't do Chem-Lawn. I do not have a construction site. I am not a farmer. I do not dump chemicals or anything else. But now I have this bill.

It's clear that the lion's share of the bill will go to support the new bureaucracy. The letter was signed by a Stormwater Engineer with two fancy sets of initials- PE and LPG, so we at least have to pay for him... and a secretary... and a couple of inspectors... and an office, with office furniture and computers, and vehicles... and we'll have to provide benefits and insurance... and ...

GODDAMN! Is the water any fucking cleaner yet?

I've been to the Third World lately. America is really clean compared to Ecuador, where pollution is rampant. Can we give ourselves a bit of a break on the guilt trips at least long enough to stop growing more pointless government?

This fading republic is being heaped upon with more and more swindles and bamboozles. A few people get feel-goods about it, but the rest of us just get ripped off. Construction sites and farms are far and away the two biggest sources of water pollution in Hamilton County, so who gets the bill? The residential homeowner. What a steaming pile!

It would have been nice if some one elected official, anyone, had the balls and integrity to have told the feds and the state to stick it up the yin-yang on this farce.
Sweep It Clean!

It was 1989 that I first went to New York City, all of 21 years old. I figured myself pretty street savvy, since I new my way around Cleveland and got myself out of a 4-on-1 (me being the one) knife stick-up in Detroit earlier that year. And yet, I found myself perfectly unsettled in Manhattan. Why? Panhandlers- the most aggressive I had ever seen.

I learned a trick. I bought a pack of cigarettes. They cost $1 back then, making them a nickel each. If cornered by a particularly aggressive and/or smelly urban outdoorsman, I would offer two cigs. They would always be accepted eagerly, even though a dime would have gotten an angry retort.

I went back once more in 1990, but decided that I just didn't like being accosted all the time. For a while, a trip to the Big City meant Toronto, which was cleaner besides.

A funny thing happened a few years ago. Toronto and NYC traded places. I took Alex to Toronto 6-7 years ago, and it was awful. The panhandlers were overwhelmingly young- lying in the sidewalks, human pin-cushions. Not to sort of thing I wanted Alex to have to deal with as a 9-year-old. New York, on the other hand, was glorious. Even in Central Park, we were left to ourselves to enjoy the greenery.

I've never been back to Toronto. I've been to New York more than 20 times since 1998. Do the tourist math.

Move forward to the present, and here in Central Indiana. I live in Fishers, and for work, I probably visit downtown Indianapolis once a week. Invariably, I am hit up by a panhandler.

Now I know that some homeless, many even, suffer mental illnesses. I pity that, but by no means does it give me cause to enjoy the interference. I have a job to do. You want money? Go get a job. At least get out of my way.

So, I am positively delighted to learn that Indy's new Mayor has clearing the streets as a top agenda item. This is excellent news for downtown! From the Indy Star report:

John Cochran, Ballard's special counsel, said the Mayor's Action Center receives complaints and the mayor's staff hears about panhandling regularly.
"People who live Downtown are tired of it," Cochran said. "We want to reduce it to a palatable level."

To do that, Ballard wants to bring a "tough love" approach to the issue.

He said people shouldn't feel constantly harassed to give money.

"The immediate goal is to get them out of Downtown so that citizens and visitors don't have to look at it," Ballard said last week.

I've never minded the buskers. Play your music out of the footpath, and it's lovely. The Star referenced Tom Goins. I see him on the NE quadrant of the Circle all the time. I don't mind him. He's pleasant. He's clean. He passively does what he does. The aggressive unsightly begging has to go.

I don't know what Rudy Giuliani did as mayor to clean up New York, but it worked. I like going there again. In fact, I like going there far more than I like going downtown. That's quite a statement, because travel to NYC entails a trip through TSA's security hell.

There are some who will find this policy insensitive. Fine. Here are your choices: Be a magnet for tourism and commerce, or, be a magnet for panhandlers.

Which will it be?