Treasure Coast Newspapers: EDITORIAL: While seemingly bureaucratic waste, Seven50 planning project for southeast Florida may produce useful results

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It’s easy to argue that Seven50, a project designed to draft a comprehensive plan for economic development and quality of life for seven Southeast Florida counties — including those on the Treasure Coast — for 50 years from now is a make-work program for highly paid planning consultants.

Or that predicting the region’s assets and problems 50 years away is foolhardy.

Or that such projects take a lot of time and energy — only to come up with a thick report that will do little more than gather dust.

Still, there’s room for optimism. Seven50 can produce results to be used by participants as they see fit for the long-term good of their individual communities and for the region as a whole.

If nothing else comes from Seven50, it is providing an opportunity for participants to share ideas and concerns regionally to an unprecedented extent. Participants can potentially discover areas for cooperation and coordination to enhance the global competitiveness of the region and to address issues that cross jurisdictional boundaries.

Key to the possible success of the project is giving each of the seven participating counties and the more than 100 local governments in the region a voice in the discussions. It was discouraging, therefore, that Indian River County commissioners put their heads in the sand last month and opted out of the project. Led by Commissioner Bob Solari, who seems to have philosophical problems with the project, commissioners raised concerns about the potential outcomes, including increased interference in local decision-making, and that Indian River’s voice might be drowned out by larger counties to the south.

By not taking part, Indian River County commissioners assured their voice will not be heard. The county withdrew without giving enough time to the process to determine how Indian River County might benefit. Opportunities for federal funding of projects, for example, might be reduced if it is based on goals established by the regional coalition as a whole.

Let’s hope Indian River County’s shortsightedness does not cause problems for a future commission that might want to get, say, a federal grant for an Indian River Lagoon project, but is denied, in part, because it did not spend time working on Seven50.

Other opponents of the initiative include some local tea party members, who claim Seven50 is part of a global agenda orchestrated by the United Nations.

Leading the project are the Treasure Coast and South Florida Regional Planning councils, which were awarded a $4.25 million federal grant in 2010 to study such issues as transportation, housing, health care, water and education. Already, Seven50 has developed new databases related to transportation and water resources.

The region has no economic development plan. A goal of Seven50 is to develop such a plan while also enhancing quality of life for residents of the region.

Seven50 is not going to solve all the potential problems the region may face over the next five decades. And, whatever goals are established will not be mandated or enforced involuntarily. Rather, it will open lines of communication, assist in coordinating major projects and potential funding for them, and provide a blueprint for what participants want for the region in the future.

Without some sort of mutually agreed upon plan and goals associated with it, the counties in the region will lack the competitive edge they otherwise might have in a flourishing future.

There’s no harm in participating.

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