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An Earth Day wish: move the tech park


With a name like Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council, you'd think we'd get some actual regional planning. Instead, the goal seems to be insuring that every area in the region gets a share of state money.

All right: I'm being snarky. The council does have representatives from throughout the Rochester-Finger Lakes region working together to improve the area's economy. But the Council's plan for a high-tech park in Genesee County is exasperating. Forgive my focusing on the same subject in two consecutive columns, but this a really good illustration of how we perpetuate sprawl, which is bad both for our urban areas and for the environment.

The park will be located in the Town of Alabama, an area that right now, as City's Jeremy Moule noted earlier this month, is "blanketed with farms and protected wild areas." Genesee County and Development Council officials hope the facility will attract big nanotech companies and create jobs.

Less than an hour away, of course, are two highly developed areas: Rochester to the east, Buffalo to the west. If New York embraced the principles of sound regional development – if we wanted to protect the environment – that tech park would go in one of those developed areas, which already have much of the infrastructure and public services it would need. And, by the way, it would be more likely to have – or to attract – the skilled workforce that high-tech businesses need.

Instead, state funds will help create a high-tech industrial park in a rural area, possibly changing that area dramatically. And employees will either have to have housing built – and the public will have to provide new services like schools and utilities – or the employees will live in Rochester and Buffalo and drive back and forth to work.

The tech-park plan, then, is a perfect example of government-induced, environmentally destructive sprawl.

This is what happens when there is no regional vision. Open space, farmland, woods, lakes, streams: they're among Upstate New York's most important attributes. Planning together, we could strengthen developed areas and protect the less developed land. And we could devise tax structures and tax-base sharing so that the need for tax revenue didn't spur development in the wrong places.

But no.

State Assembly member Joe Morelle called the Alabama project "a transformational opportunity." He's half right. It's transformational, all right. But it's a smart-growth opportunity lost.

On a different topic: The news about the Affordable Care Act has turned from bad to good. The sign-up numbers beat Obama's goal. The number of young adults looks good.

That gives Democrats a chance to tout what the law provides, and last week, Obama challenged them to do just that. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Americans have gained plenty: no more denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions; no more loss of insurance if you get a serious illness or lose your job; no more lifetime cap on your health-insurance coverage.

For Democrats, that's been a winning message all along, but they let Republicans control the discussion and scare them away from the legislation. Now Republicans plan to make the health-care plan a centerpiece of their midterm election campaigns.

This is not a small issue. Political analysts are predicting that Republicans will keep control of the House in this year's election and that they have a reasonable chance at getting control of the Senate. That would pretty much insure that Obama will accomplish little in his last two years. Republicans will set the agenda, and Obama will be forced to accept it or be content with veto after veto. Obama critics like Darrell Issa will relish the prospect of hearings into administration actions. And Republicans will be able to block any significant Obama appointments – including to the Supreme Court.

It's way past time for Democrats to get their courage back. Maybe the health-care enrollment numbers will strengthen their spine.