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EXETER â€“ An admirer of Scott Millar â€“ the environmentalist who spurred Exeter to inclusion in the Borderlands project â€“ credits him with being a town leader in land conservation.
Moreover, she says, â€śHe is stunningly persuasive about the very real advantagesâ€ť of such an approach. â€śHeâ€™s wonderful in educating the general public in why we have to think intelligently about how weâ€™re doing our planning and building our communities. He can talk to your average person.â€ť
â€śIdeally,â€ť Millar says, the definition of a successful long-range blueprint is â€śwhat would fit Exeter. We wanted to make sure people understood why and what weâ€™re doing and that they supported it. Their concerns were considered very early in the process.â€ť
At public meetings introducing the â€śVision for Exeterâ€ť with its blueprint for careful development â€“ balanced by conservation of farms and forest land â€“ residents could anonymously provide feedback on various components by pressing yes or no on keypads.
â€śIt told us what they thought; the way they felt it should be.â€ť
Ideas were presented in pictures rather than bureaucratic jargon insuring, Millar explains, that the so-called â€śVision for Exeterâ€ť was based on what the community thought was a good idea, not on the opinions of â€ś10 people around a table.â€ť
Millar, a native of Wayne, N.J. who came to Rhode Island to earn a bachelorâ€™s degree in natural resources and a masterâ€™s in wildlife management from URI, is the administrator of the state Department of Environmental Managementâ€™s Sustainable Watersheds office.
â€śI fell in love with the area and never left,â€ť he says. â€śA lot of native Rhode Islanders take what we have here for granted.â€ť
Millar is one of a growing number of nationally-known experts in fields including architecture, the environment, historic preservation and preparedness who are becoming involved in Exeterâ€™s future.
â€śVolunteers make this town very special,â€ť he says. â€śThere are a lot of community-spirited people.â€ť
In fact, Millar served on Exeterâ€™s conservation commission, charter commission and planning board and was coordinator when the new comprehensive plan was drafted.
Then he discovered the Borderlands Project.
â€śI knew they were looking for towns in Rhode Island and Connecticut [to create an outside-the-box vision for conservation-centric development]. I thought it was a great opportunity so I wrote a proposal. We were very fortunate that we were accepted. (The other town to be selected is Killingly, Conn.)
â€śWhat Iâ€™ve been working on is trying to use [planned] development that will improve natural resources and community character,â€ť Millar explains. â€śLarge-lot zoning destroys the features people move here to enjoy â€“ farms, forests â€“ and pollutes our water.
â€śWeâ€™ve had a great core group of people working on this over the years. Hopefully, it will make a difference in how this town will grow so future generations can enjoy what we currently enjoy about the town.â€ť
One of the things he loves most about the Exeter lifestyle, he says, is that â€śitâ€™s one of the few towns where people can still make a living from the land; farming and forestry. I grow blueberries and go to farmersâ€™ markets with the kids. Itâ€™s how they learned to make change and deal with people. People who may have been downsized [in their jobs] are using their land to grow things they can sell and make a profit. Theyâ€™re adapting quickly: theyâ€™ll take tomatoes and peppers and make salsa.â€ť
Millar and his wife, a teacher at Metcalf Elementary School, have a son and daughter at EWG Regional High School and another son at Metcalf. Millar coaches his kids in basketball, soccer and distance running. â€śIâ€™m a fanatical runner myself.â€ť
Heâ€™s in his DEM office in Providence by 7:30 a.m. and runs after work or at lunch break. â€śIâ€™ve nearly been hit a couple of timesâ€ť running in Providence. At DEM, he adds, â€śUnfortunately, Iâ€™m in the office. I got into this thinking Iâ€™d be outside more but Iâ€™m behind a desk.â€ť
His ability to explain complex matters in simple terms make him the perfect liaison to local communities.
â€śI can have information to protect natural resources that I use in working with legislators and town officials [such as] planners and managers,â€ť he notes.
He hopes this will be his legacy in the rural town heâ€™s come to love.
â€śIâ€™d like to be remembered as someone who tried to make a difference by protecting Exeterâ€™s special character for future generations.â€ť
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.