The opioid epidemic received a lot of attention at the 2018 Mountain State Land Use Academy, hosted recently by WVU’s Land Use and Sustainable Development (LUSD) Law Clinic.
Held this year at Adventures of the Gorge in Fayette County, the MSLUA is an annual gathering to discuss issues that are critical to developing West Virginia communities. Participants include certified planners, legal experts, members of local governments, and other community leaders.
“The purpose of the academy is to empower citizen planners by giving them the knowledge and resources needed to address land use issues at the local level,” said Jesse Richardson, a land use attorney with the law clinic. “We focus on current land use issues that are most prominent and pressing in West Virginia.”
Anne Hazlett, assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), was the 2018 MSLUA keynote speaker. She spoke about ways the USDA is working with communities to help residents combat the opioid crisis in their own neighborhoods.
Hazlett reported that the USDA provides rural grants to improve infrastructure like courthouses and health clinics, and access digital resources like educational programs, addiction treatment, an online tool kit for community leaders, and expanded mental health services.
“We are placing a high priority on one asset that is crucial to future prosperity in rural America, and that is access to high speed internet,” she said. “From increased economic opportunity to telemedicine, addiction services and advanced learning, this infrastructure presents an opportunity for communities to thrive.”
Featured speaker Greg Puckett of the Mercer County Commission discussed ways municipalities can address the opioid epidemic through a comprehensive plan.
Puckett stated that by focusing on the problem of addiction rather than the presence of drugs, community leaders can address the comprehensive nature of the opioid crisis and work to change policies that tackle long-term systemic issues that make people vulnerable to drug abuse in the first place, like lack of education, poverty, and failing infrastructure.
“Addiction is an illness,” he said. “We cannot arrest our way out of this crisis. We need to provide more prevention services and get people to avoid drug use in the first place, before they move into addictive behavior.”
Claire Swauger, a 2018 WVU Law graduate and member of the land use clinic, shared a personal story of how her family has been directly affected by the opioid crisis. She also discussed her research on including policies to combat the opioid epidemic in comprehensive plans.
Not all of the discussions at the 2018 MSLUA focused on the opioid crisis. Participants also attended breakout sessions that addressed a range of community development issues such as zoning, dilapidated buildings, affordable housing, planning for broadband Internet, rural tourism, and tiny homes.
Awards were also handed out at the 2018 MSLUA.
McDowell County resident Marie Dockery received the West Virginia Chapter of the American Planning Association Citizen Planner Award. Dockery was honored for her work to include all voices in her community in the planning process. Through her involvement in the North Elkins Community Action Association and other initiatives, Dockery encourages McDowell County residents to take part in community projects and works to educate others.
Anna Ziegler, an attorney from Hinton, West Virginia, was presented with the Joyce McConnell Award for Professional Contributions to Planning. Ziegler practices real estate, property, and local government law. She serves on the board of directors for the New River Conservancy and is chair of the group’s land protection committee.
The Community Achievements in Planning Award, which recognizes a West Virginia community that has moved itself forward in the face of adversity, was presented to The City of Richwood. The municipality adopted its comprehensive plan just days before the 2016 flood impacted the community. Even facing the enormous challenges related to rebuilding, Richwood managed to implement several aspects of its comprehensive plan after the floodwater receded.
The Mountain State Land Use Academy was founded in 2016 by the LUSD Law Clinic at the WVU College of Law. The clinic is directed by Katherine Garvey. The academy is co-sponsored by the West Virginia Chapter of the American Planning Association.