Tuesday November 6, 2012

BRATTLEBORO - It's no easy task to draw up a long-term plan for 27 towns.

That's why the Windham Regional Commission expects to take two years and use plenty of public input in updating its regional plan - an important blueprint covering issues such as energy, transportation and natural resources.

In an attempt to get more people involved, administrators are soliciting comment online. That process starts now and runs through Dec. 31.

"We're looking at other avenues to reach people who can't make it to public hearings," said Cullen Meves, a Windham Regional planner.

The commission covers 23 towns in Windham County as well as Weston in Windsor County and Readsboro, Searsburg and Winhall in Bennington County.

State law says the commission's regional plan must be updated every eight years, and the last update was finished in 2006.

So planners are starting on the next update now, a process that will end with adoption of a new plan for 2014.

While regional planning isn't a flashy topic, officials say the document provides important "guidance for change" and "reflects shared values and concerns of the people who live in our 27 towns."

"The plan establishes the basis for the work of the WRC," said Chris Campany, the commission's executive director. "It's the foundation for all that we do in the areas of town planning assistance, community development, energy, transportation, natural resources and emergency planning as well as the positions we take in state and federal regulatory processes.


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The update process is designed to make the new plan "a genuine reflection of the goals of the region," Windham Regional administrators said. So they want to hear from a wider population than those directly involved in town government.

"We're really encouraging public comment," Meves said. "We want comment from town residents on what they want to see."

There will be the standard public meetings as well as phone calls and letters, Meves said. But the commission also has developed a website - windhamregionalplan.wordpress.com - to collect comment on the region's current plan.

"It's important for people to comment on what we're starting from," Meves said.

There are links to each chapter of the document and a reply box for comments. Commenters are urged to "keep the language civil," but comments can be made anonymously and officials are pledging to review all of them.

When the commission completes a first draft of the updated regional plan, it will be posted for another round of online comment.

Much has changed since 2006. And officials expect the new plan to reflect the most important changes in the region, including the widespread impacts of Tropical Storm Irene last year.

"That will definitely be at the forefront of everyone's mind as they go through these chapters," Meves said.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802254-2311, ext. 275.