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The Planet
January/February 1999 Volume 6, Number 1

Even Cowgirls Get the Freeway Blues

by Sarah Clusen

Jennifer Gillmor is a true cowgirl. She is more comfortable breaking in a new colt than navigating the expressways around Salt Lake City. Her ancestors came to Utah and settled as part of the Homestead Act. A few years ago, Gov. Michael Leavitt (R) designated her family ranch a "Century Farm" because they had raised cattle on the same land for more than a hundred years.

Just two years after Leavitt bestowed that distinction on Gillmor Livestock Industry, he unveiled a transportation plan that would sacrifice part of the ranch to make way for a new highway. Legacy Highway would slice through world-class wetlands that host hundreds of thousands of birds like white pelicans and great blue herons. Leavitt proposed that the highway be completed in time for the 2002 Winter Olympics and that it be paid for with Olympic funds.

But Legacy Highway will not be built with Olympic funds, and it will not be finished in time for the winter games. In fact, if Gillmor - who serves as a liaison between the Club and family farmers - gets her way, it may never be built at all.

For more than a year, the Sierra Club Environmental Public Education Campaign in Utah has reached out to groups like the Audubon Society and the Future Farmers of America. They worked with people who watch shorebirds with binoculars and people who hunt waterfowl with rifles.

They built a coalition that turned out an estimated 1,000 activists to speak against Legacy Highway at a Utah Department of Transportation hearing. The UDOT panel begged the audience to submit written comments so they could go home, but the crowd refused to give up speaking rights, and as a result the hearing continued until well after midnight.

"A year ago people were saying that there was no way this lemon could be stopped," said Lawson LeGate, Southwest regional representative. "But now, thanks to Chapter Chair Nina Dougherty, Bob Adler and other dedicated Club volunteers, Legacy Highway is looking more and more like the Edsel of freeway ideas."

In the Washington, D.C. area, the EPEC campaign has also gained ground fighting sprawl. With the slogan, "Better Communities - Less Traffic," activists in the region are combating pollution and protecting open space by highlighting the virtues of public transit and smart growth. And, for nearly a decade, the local activists have been fighting to protect the Chapman Forest, wooded land along the Potomac River slated to be converted into condominiums.

But the EPEC campaign raised the issue of open space to a new level, linking it with quality-of-life issues like clean air and safer communities. Chapman's Landing, the proposed development along the Potomac, became the poster child for suburban sprawl. Three years ago, even some of the people working on the campaign thought the proposed development was a done deal. But, in October the state of Maryland and the Mellon Foundation purchased 2,225 acres of the forest. "It took endless pressure, endlessly applied, everywhere," said Joy Oakes, Appalachian regional representative. "And we won."

While many EPEC campaigns are trying to rein in low-density suburban development, others are fighting against overly dense cities - of pigs.

It used to be that pigs were raised on family farms. But a new trend is sweeping the nation. Pigs are no longer raised, they are "manufactured" in confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.

In Oklahoma, the EPEC program is doing a great job of keeping these animal factories in check. The Sierra Club, working with the Oklahoma Family Farm Alliance and other local groups, built a strong coalition that updates its 1,400 activists with their newsletter "CAFO Comments."

This past spring, Gov. Frank Keating (R) issued a temporary moratorium on the construction of new hog factories. Then the state legislature passed new standards that are being hailed as a model for other states to follow.

Go on to the next article, "EPEC Highlights."
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