Linear Land Use Projects Are Toughest to Win Local Approval

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(This article first appeared in a monthly newsletter which Mike Saint publishes to all clients and friends of The Saint Consulting Group, and it triggered a series of related land use posts. If you would like to receive an email copy of The Saint Newsletter, contact

By P. Michael Saint, CEO, The Saint Consulting Group

People ask me what is the hardest kind of land use to permit? Our own Saint Index polling shows landfills, mines, casinos, power plants and Wal-Mart are the least popular types of projects one can propose.

But I would have to say that the hardest to get approved is “Linear Land Use.” By that I mean any project that is long, narrow and passes through many communities–think: high speed rail, oil-and gas- pipelines and electric transmission lines.

President Obama has made a large commitment to funding an interstate high speed rail system but Republican governors in Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida have rejected the federal funds for rail in their states. California, a hugely Democratic state, is dragging its feet on building a Los Angeles-to-San Francisco rail line. “A new Rasmussen Report national telephone survey finds that, overall, 41 percent of Likely Voters favor  the plan and 46 percent are opposed.” And local opponents in each state threaten to block it from passing through.

A similar High Speed Rail system proposed to connect Birmingham and London, England has come under heavy opposition. (Click here for a detailed story on high speed rail). According to one paper, “The  multi-billion high-speed rail link project that will see a new line connect London to Birmingham is an “expensive white elephant” and should be scrapped, an alliance of business leaders, politicians and economists have said.”

Pipelines are another linear land use that gets push back. (To see the entire pipeline story, click here).  Said a newspaper, “Over 83 environmental groups sent a letter to President Obama to protest progress on the Keystone XL pipeline, a project currently in the approval phase which would streamline the delivery of Canadian oil and gas to the U.S.”

Electric transmission lines, even those that carry clean hydro- or wind- power- generated electricity to urban centers, get fought. (Read more by clicking here). In New Hampshire last March, according to the Union Leader: “Hundreds of people from Hudson to Stewartstown packed Pembroke Academy High School recently to say they’re against the Northern Pass hydroelectric project because it threatens to destroy 180 scenic views and numerous homes along its path…Canadian utility company Hydro-Quebec would fund the $1.1 billion project, which the company said would reduce 5 million tons of carbon dioxide in the region. The company would own 180 miles of transmission lines associated with it, with 140 stretching from Pittsburg in far northern New Hampshire to Franklin, then another 40 from there to Deerfield.”

So, why are they so difficult? Linear Land Use projects have all of the negatives of a single-site proposal and few of the positives. They attract NIMBY’S and environmentalists and historic preservationists, and the builders are hard pressed to identify meaningful economic benefits that any one community along the route will receive.

Most Linear Land Use Projects benefit someone else other than the community which they intersect. Canadian oil and gas being shipped down a pipe to a U.S. refinery or U.S. market will do little for the farms and farmers along the route in North Dakota. High speed rail might help people in Southern California reach Northern California faster, but how does it help communities in the middle, especially those that do not even get a rail station or stop along the route?

So NIMBY’S turn out to fight. Who turns out to support construction of rail, pipelines and transmission lines? And without seeing a demonstration that the project has support, how will local officials react?

Next month, various Saint experts will discuss how to:

* Go into communities to identify untapped latent support
*Pull together community support to leverage on local officials
*Use community outreach to mitigate local objections
*Use integrated political campaign strategy to build momentum and counter opposition

P. Michael Saint is the CEO and founder of The Saint Consulting Group, email

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