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REGISTER VIEWPOINT: Mapping out a muddled mess

Commentary • Mar 23, 2010 at 6:24 PM

The proposal by Bob and Ruth Haag, and the Erie Soil and Water Conservation District, for an interactive map of all the contaminated sites in Erie County looks good on the face of it, but we wonder if it's a solution in search of a problem.

Certainly there are sites we know about, tainted with the by-products of 100 years or more of not knowing any better what that stuff does to the environment. And certainly there are sites we don't know about.

But the method -- an interactive, online map little better than the community-consensus model of Wikipedia, the one-stop reference shop whose information always bears checking -- leaves a little to be desired.

The Haags say the map would be screened -- we're assured your nasty neighbor couldn't simply post, for whatever reason lurks in the little lizard part of his brain, that your property has a coal-tar blob under it. The information would be checked out.

And that's the rub. Checked out against what? If there's information to corroborate a posting, it's information that ought to be discoverable through the due diligence any responsible developer is going to perform in evaluating whether a site is worth developing. Given the cost of cleanup for some of these old, polluted sites, no prospective developer is going to want to sign on the dotted line on the say-so of a so-called Wiki map.

So far, so what? What's the harm, you quite reasonably ask? The problem lies in the fact money would be needed to start and operate this map. The Internet may be free, but the hardware to maintain the information still costs money to own and run. And, quite frankly, to pay the people to run this solution we didn't know we needed.

That money, whether local, state or federal, will eventually come from the taxpayer's pocket, if a government gets into the act. And there are better things to do with tax money than to build a solution in search of a problem.

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