Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Angling for a Boom

Photo by Matthew Staver/Bloomberg

There are hundreds of cities & town in the U.S. brought to their knees not only by the Permanent Fiscal Crisis facing most local governments but, most notably, by the busting economies littering the wake of the Great Recession. The anxiety shivering through these communities and their households is now chronic, pandemic and firmly fixed in reality. Like freshly-gathered yearlings, the frenetic inhabitants of these paddocks are onry, fearing the worst, and looking for the gate. Nevermind that the gatekeepers toying with the latch would love nothing more than to loose a whipsawed stampede of panic upon the White House, at least until they've measured the drapes for their chosen new occupant.

But don't most busts follow booms? Why yes, Jimmy, they do. And if there's an overlooked flipside to the panic triggered by a Bust economy, it's the anxiety of Boom.

Here at the Church, the anxiety of Boom is palpable and has become something of a shapeshifter. At present, we face down the barrels of not one but two booms and three corollary boomlets arriving locked-and-loaded like thieves in the night in the form of the Bakken oil playKeystone XL pipelineOtter Creek coal tracts, Tongue River Railroad, and CBM development in the Powder River Basin.

The events, so far, have provoked mixed reactions among the brethren as the maps of these new realities are drawn. Our beloved and resident Siamese twin, the gaming/liquor franchise, is as jubilant as a sailor on leave anticipating a happy ending at his favorite massage parlor. Property owners outside of the city limits have lined up en masse to divest themselves of any statutory planning or zoning authority by city officials and are readying themselves for the cash-in that is sure to follow earnest rezone and subdivision efforts with the county commissioners. The members of land use boards and commissions are trembling at the threshold. The newly-elected mayor has a tiger by the tail and his head in the sand so that he doesn't have to look the beast squarely in the eye. For her part, the recently-appointed City planner has been dropped into a pot of water just as the stove has been set to boil.

Meanwhile, the local economic developer has been pressed to publicly notice his meetings as he uses public funds to help "prepare" the way for boomtown Miles City. It should be noted that Williston, ND (ground zero of the Bakken Boom) prepared 30 years for this boom and was outrun in two. The most important thing that our economic developer can do to prepare Miles City is to finally publish that long-overdue Vision Miles City project, collaboratively created over the past 4 years with dozens of stakeholders. And the entire Congregation should keep a close watch on the Miles City Area Economic Development Council (MCAEDC), if for no other reason than to keep these players honest.

For their part, some city councilmen and county commissioners appear to be abandoning predispositions toward the micromanagement of professional staff in hopes of said staffers producing growth policy revisions that can prevent a wholesale unraveling of the social fabric. Afterwards, grandstanding will predictably ensue - loudly, inanely, and repeatedly.

Let us light a candle to the former and pray that the latter is mercifully short.

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