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New Statewide Virginia Solutions Initiative To Help Fauquier County River Easement Program Build Community Consensus

August 5, 2005 -- Fauquier County has a problem. Twelve of its rivers, which flow first into the Rappahannock River and eventually into the Chesapeake Bay, are polluted from agricultural runoff. County officials are under pressure to find a solution to protect the headwaters for water supply as part of the water quality management program. The county also seeks to retain its agricultural heritage. The issue has widespread public impact, and numerous stakeholders — including farmers, water recreation enthusiasts, environmentalists, and government, state and local organizations — all have an interest in the outcome of the decisions made concerning the issue.

Virginia Solutions — a partnership between the University of Virginia’s Institute for Environmental Negotiation and the Virginia Association of Community Conflict Resolution will play the role of mediator and help draft a declaration of cooperation that will allow a river easement program to move forward with input and agreement on all sides.

Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources W. Tayloe Murphy Jr. appointed Harry Atherton, a farmer and a member on the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors, to convene interested parties to help create a program and develop incentives for best management practices. Atherton also enlisted the services of the Piedmont Dispute Resolution Center, an affiliate of Virginia Solutions, to help develop the plan for the Fauquier County Riparian Easement Program.

Involvement in the Fauquier program, paired with a model project on the Eastern Shore that will develop a plan for addressing shared issues with wastewater treatment, are pilot programs that will help Virginia Solutions create a framework for the new statewide program initiative that will be most effective in resolving various issues communities face throughout the state.

“Our role will be episodic,” said Lawrie Parker, executive director of the PDRC, whose clients usually are two people or two businesses involved in a dispute. “Work that is done in the Virginia Solutions model will be ongoing — and have ongoing benefits.”

Parker is one of four center facilitators who will begin work with the Fauquier program, beginning Aug. 22. During the course of the project, expected to run through November, they will meet with the group about four times.

“The work differs from our other center work,” Parker said. “It is more complex, involves more players and the decisions that are reached impact the public.” 

 PDRC is one of 10 mediation centers around the state that has received training in community consensus building and large group facilitation from Frank Dukes, director of U.Va.’s IEN.

Issues of land use, air quality, education, social resources, water quality and transportation are some of the many challenges that every community grapples with, often with great conflict among the various local stakeholders. Virginia Solutions aims to:

  • Establish an easy-to-use, cost-effective statewide mechanism for triggering and convening a Virginia Solutions process in a locality.
  • Build on existing dispute resolution services and resources within the state.
  • Strengthen the use of collaborative problem solving within communities and create links among agencies for addressing complex community issues.
  • Create a cross-sector coalition of support for Virginia Solutions inside and outside of state government.
  • Facilitate leveraging of resources for the implementation and follow-through of integrated solutions.
  • Provide a specific mechanism to increase community, environmental and economic sustainability in localities throughout Virginia.

 “Virginia Solutions will offer an easy, consistent and recognized framework for collaborative approaches to be initiated in any Virginia community throughout the commonwealth,” said Tanya Denckla Cobb, a senior associate with IEN.

 “We believe Virginia Solutions will offer a welcome avenue for communities and agencies to work together to create integrated solutions to community challenges.”

Once a local issue is identified and brought to the attention of the Virginia Solutions team at the University of Virginia, it is evaluated to ascertain if it meets criteria to become a Virginia Solutions project. The UVA team identifies an organization local to the project’s community that will provide facilitation and project management, and together they identify a recognized and trusted community person who is appointed as official convener for the project.  To address the community issues, the facilitation team and convener assemble a Solutions Team comprised of key community and agency stakeholders. This Solutions Team works to develop an action plan to resolve the issues and documents this plan in a Declaration of Cooperation. The impartial facilitation team relies on mediation techniques to help stakeholders bridge their differences and develop a consensus agreement.

Virginia Solutions invites participation from all stakeholders; brings people face-to-face to talk about issues; promotes solutions that work for all key interested parties; supports high-quality, legitimate information; focuses on understanding the issues and people involved; and encourages the right process for the particular situation.

“Community solutions reduce and heal community rifts, build social capital and civic participation, foster commitment to implementing decisions and build legitimacy for public actions,” said Frank Dukes, IEN director.

 “It creates a win-win situation for all the parties involved.”

Contact: Jane Ford, (434) 924-4298

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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