MANCHESTER – Robert M. Hartwell, Chair of the Bennington Country Regional Commission, was elected president of the New England Association of Regional Councils at its annual meeting in Portland, Maine. NEARC is composed of planning commissions and metropolitan planning organizations throughout New England.
At this year’s meeting, attended by more than 50 commissioners, office holders and professional staff from all six states, presentations and discussion occurred on a variety of topics including light rail in New Hampshire, the Northern Woods Initative, the Vermont Housing Awareness Campaign and the eminent domain decisions of the Supreme Court in Celo vs. City of New London, among numerous others.
The New England Association of Regional Councils is developing a strategic plan for all six New England states to improve the quality of life in the region through a comprehensive effort to address those problems which cause decision makers in other regions to believe that New England is too old and too complex to attract significant new business development. In addition, the goal is to reverse a trend which has more than twenty per cent of the region’s college graduates leaving New England between the ages of 21 and 34.
NEARC is focused on affordable housing, transportation infrastructure, education and environmental quality. NEARC has retained the University of Massachusetts at Lowell to assist in the development of a strategic approach to placing its key issues and proposals in the form of a New England Initiative in front of the six governors with the theme: Six States, One Destiny.
In particular, New England lags in moving freight from road to rail which causes infrastructure maintenance expense well above the norm, contributes to congestion, degrades air quality and causes accidents; New England’s affordable housing shortage is particularly severe, and the area is at a disadvantage with a fragmented system of access to health care combined with its location near Canada’s National Health Service. These are the factors which inhibit economic growth.
New England has some of the nation’s finest colleges and universities but invests far less than other regions in its community college and technical school systems. For example, North Carolina spends $81 per capita on it’s community colleges, California $74 with New England ranging from a high of $37 in Rhode Island down to a low of $15 in Vermont. Massachusetts is 49th out of 50 states in public university funding.
New Englad is possessed of much talent but loses a considerable portion of it to other states due to the regions relative weakness in providing for a reasonable priced cost of living even though taxes do not appear to be a competitive disadvantage to New England.
NEARC is commencing to work with other organizations including the New England Council, New England Futures and The Institute for Sustainable Growth to promote a sense of New England community through emphasis on ending sprawl, promoting alternative transportation including trails, light rail and mixed use development and a policy which emphasizes renewable and cleaner sources including wind, wood and biomass with a strong emphasis on conservation. In Burlington, Vermont, a good example has been set; 42 percent of the city’s power, comes from renewable sources.
Hartwell says the Executive Committee of the New England Association of Regional Councils, made up of its officers and 24 at large members from throughout New England, will be meeting again in 2005 and throughout 2006 to complete its work on the New England Initiative and will include more formal cooperation among other entities dedicated to New England’s future.
NEARC will become an IRS section 501 (c) (3) entity at the end of 2006 and will be applying for various grants to further its New England Initiative for a successful growth strategy for all six New England states.
Hartwell says he will submit a periodic status report to the media on the status of NEARC’s efforts and will also work on upgrades to its web site. He also said that the annual meeting of the organization rotates among the six states and will be held in Vermont next year.