Of Saps and Sappers: Knucklehead Deconstructionism

by Anonymous

A sneaky war-fighting strategy was developed back in the middle ages which involved secretly tunneling underneath castle walls while the defenders within naively toiled to protect the people living together inside. The end of the tunnel was filled with explosives, and at the right moment, KA-BOOM—a wall painstakingly built by a community seeking to defend itself from assault could be reduced to rubble.

These disruptive miners were called "sappers", but slang later developed that also hung the moniker "sap" on a nasty little skull-cracker called a blackjack; a heavy hunk of metal tightly encased in a leather bag that you could hide in your hand and use to surprise people you didn't think much of. Movie gangsters used 'em alot. Remember? When you got hit with one, you had been "sapped"!

I guess all is fair in old movies and war. Pretty clear, right? Bad guy. Good guy. Obviously, they have un-resolvable differences. A brutal attack from a hidden weapon is just the right medicine, in such a case I suppose.

OK—but here in New Hampshire's small towns we aren't enemies. We aren't locked in some kind of death struggle. We are all citizens of one of the most representative and participatory democracies in the world (NH!), all living essentially similar lifestyles, most of us with same dreams and aspirations.

So why do we need to have hardworking volunteers from the Rochester Conservation Commission backed up against the wall right out of the blue as they were in the last two issues of the Rochester Times? The stories make it sound like a state rep had some questions about a grant application that would have brought significant funds into town coffers for conservation activities. Yeah, and questions are good. but did he take his questions to the appropriate town officials, and in his capacity as an elected representative of the very volunteers he vilifies, get clarification from them on the fine points he didn't understand? Did he review the tapes of the public meetings so he could be sure he was not about to accidentally accuse his own constituents of criminal acts? No. He wrote directly to the granting agency in an attempt to undermine the application. He filled a front-page article with conjecture guaranteed to stir up a mess in the most destructive way he could think of. These are not the actions of a citizen contributing to the public discourse. This is a consciously destructive assault that seeks only to gain a political upper hand.

This state rep is intentionally and transparently trying to dismantle the efforts—and the reputations—of hardworking volunteers who become casualties of his needless assault. And forget about the environmental or community benefits that this project may have delivered; those are lying in the gutter with lumps on the backs of their heads. Do we need honesty, openness and truth in all public endeavors like meetings and grant applications? Of course! But just as much we need cooperative approaches to resolving differences—not sneaky attacks that destroy hard work of community-minded citizens!

In Farmington, we saw this same sort of reckless behavior recently, as a zoning change intended to protect water quality and wildlife habitat was undermined (ka-boom!) in the eleventh hour. Why? Because one or two cranky fellas with chips on their shoulders chose to concoct the most alarmist, paranoid interpretation of the provision into scenarios specifically designed to scare (rather than inform) residents. They could have earned the community's gratitude for catching an oversight in the ordinance—after all, there was a mistake that excluded agricultural activities where they should have been included. But instead of participation and contribution, they attacked and destroyed. Sapped. AND, they are helping to sap the community's energy—that of the well-meaning neighbors they mobilized on the basis of misinformation, as well as the volunteers and tax-funded consultants that spent weeks working on the measure. One sapper went so far as to harass the Secretary of Agriculture into including a line in the state's agriculture newsletter that incorrectly implied that Farmington is hostile to agriculture. For our two Farmington sappers, this is not about the right to farm (a goal fought for by all of the volunteers I know assisting with planning in Farmington today). This is about political opposition to. I'm not sure what. Are they opposed to a community working together to choose which sacrifices we are all going to make in order to protect our collective well-being in the face of crippling taxes brought on by poorly planned growth? Is that it?

The bottom line is this: Any problems with the proposed ordinance (or that might be found in the Rochester grant application) could have been easily fixed in the same cooperative environment in which they were created. In Farmington's case, our citizens could be enjoying the protection of a reasonable ordinance crafted with the goal of preserving property values while protecting our future. Instead, the fallout of this guerilla assault on the Critical Lands Overlay is that whole swaths of the town will be exposed to overdevelopment at a time when the town's Interim Growth Ordinance is ending and costly increases in development are expected. Nice job, fellas. The walls came a tumblin' down—if that's what you're after.