Towards a Kentucky Land Use Policy

By Brosi, George | Appalachian Heritage, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

Towards a Kentucky Land Use Policy


Brosi, George, Appalachian Heritage


This issue of Appalachian Heritage contains an essay by Wendell Berry entitled, "To Break the Silence." It also contains Mary Popham's review of The Embattled Wilderness by Erik Reece and Jim Krupa, the book that provided a springboard for Wendell Berry's essay, along with the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Night Comes to the Cumberlands by Harry M. Caudill.

I well remember Wendell Berry's eulogy twenty-two years ago, at the funeral of Harry Caudill in a church in Whitesburg, Kentucky, Caudill's home town. Caudill's books included My Land Is Dying (1973), a polemic against strip mining. Wendell Berry has now inherited the mantel from Harry Caudill as Kentucky's most prominent public critic of environmental destruction, and Erik Reece, who also authored Lost Mountain, is widely viewed as one the state's leading authors of books on the subject.

Wendell Berry's essay in this issue presents a new and very attractive proposal. He asserts that Kentucky needs an officially sanctioned land use policy. As matters stand now, any developer--including a state land grant university--that wants to exploit the land can argue its case on the grounds that the proposal will enrich the state by bringing money into the state's coffers, providing employment, or even flattening out the land for alternative uses. There is no need to give thought to the negative impacts of their proposition or the eventual impoverishment that their devastation could cause. If our Commonwealth had a clearly stated land use policy, that would provide a context for judging each new development scheme.

In 1926, the United States Supreme Court affirmed the right of political jurisdictions to regulate land use in the Euclid vs Ambler case, but it wasn't until 1961 that the first state, Hawaii, passed a comprehensive land use policy. In 1970, Vermont passed Act 250. It set up a grass-roots process by which development proposals are vetted locally. In 1972, Florida followed with its Environmental Land and Water Management Act and Oregon passed legislation in 1973. Four states, including Georgia, followed suit in the 1980s and four more, including Tennessee, in the 1990s. Several states, including Pennsylvania, have since passed such legislation.

One important goal that state land use plans can achieve is protecting mountain ridge lines from adverse development that ruins the view of nearby property owners and travelers. The 1983 North Carolina Mountain Ridge Protection Act has been mostly, but not completely, successful. …

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