Monday, November 26, 2007

The Word

Constitutional government sets the word above the person. Leaders are given powers and responsibilities by the documents that establish and guide our government. This is very different from government by people with unlimited powers to express their will capriciously.

All laws descend from the Constitution. All the smaller laws can't contradict the major constitutional principles, but they do have to address all the little details of running the country at every level. The Word determines who gets to do what. The people merely interpret and apply it.

Moral laws are pretty simple. You have a pretty good idea whether you should kill, steal, lie, cheat or sabotage other people's relationships. More difficult are the laws governing the mechanical aspects of life, especially building things. When the Earth seemed so big and impervious to human influence, people could build anything anywhere and take the consequences. Build in a swamp? Sure. Your building will be a moldy mess until it ultimately rots into the bog and disappears. Steep slope? Good luck with that. Wind-scoured mountain top? You're an idiot, but it's your money.

As we've grown vastly more numerous and our engineering has overcome the obstacles to construction in environmentally sensitive areas, we've had to develop better reasons to leave those areas alone. And because some poor idiots still hold investments in lands better left alone, we have to get through the transitional period in which we either let the people make their mess or buy them out.

The local wetland article for the zoning ordinance keeps growing larger and more complicated as we attempt to make it fit every possible circumstance. The goal is to have land owners able to do whatever we can allow them, even on non-conforming lots, without having to go through a punitive permitting process. At the same time we don't want to defang the ordinance for new subdivisions and construction.

Input is colored by concerns that are often not clearly voiced, if they're admitted at all. And it still has to go to the planning board for review and public hearings before it gets voted on in March.

The cumbersome process makes one wonder if we will have anything left to protect by the time we formulate all the perfect regulations. But after we are gone, The Word will remain. So it has to be as good as we can make it.

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