EXETER – An admirer of Scott Millar – the environmentalist who spurred Exeter to inclusion in the Borderlands project – credits him with being a town leader in land conservation.
Moreover, she says, “He is stunningly persuasive about the very real advantages” of such an approach. “He’s wonderful in educating the general public in why we have to think intelligently about how we’re doing our planning and building our communities. He can talk to your average person.”
“Ideally,” Millar says, the definition of a successful long-range blueprint is “what would fit Exeter. We wanted to make sure people understood why and what we’re doing and that they supported it. Their concerns were considered very early in the process.”
At public meetings introducing the “Vision for Exeter” with its blueprint for careful development – balanced by conservation of farms and forest land – residents could anonymously provide feedback on various components by pressing yes or no on keypads.
“It told us what they thought; the way they felt it should be.”
Ideas were presented in pictures rather than bureaucratic jargon insuring, Millar explains, that the so-called “Vision for Exeter” was based on what the community thought was a good idea, not on the opinions of “10 people around a table.”
Millar, a native of Wayne, N.J. who came to Rhode Island to earn a bachelor’s degree in natural resources and a master’s in wildlife management from URI, is the administrator of the state Department of Environmental Management’s Sustainable Watersheds office.
“I fell in love with the area and never left,” he says. “A lot of native Rhode Islanders take what we have here for granted.”
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 Exeter’s future.
“Volunteers make this town very special,” he says. “There are a lot of community-spirited people.”
In fact, Millar served on Exeter’s conservation commission, charter commission and planning board and was coordinator when the new comprehensive plan was drafted.
Then he discovered the Borderlands Project.
“I 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.)
“What I’ve been working on is trying to use [planned] development that will improve natural resources and community character,” Millar explains. “Large-lot zoning destroys the features people move here to enjoy – farms, forests – and pollutes our water.
“We’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.”
One of the things he loves most about the Exeter lifestyle, he says, is that “it’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 farmers’ markets with the kids. It’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. They’re adapting quickly: they’ll take tomatoes and peppers and make salsa.”
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. “I’m a fanatical runner myself.”
He’s in his DEM office in Providence by 7:30 a.m. and runs after work or at lunch break. “I’ve nearly been hit a couple of times” running in Providence. At DEM, he adds, “Unfortunately, I’m in the office. I got into this thinking I’d be outside more but I’m behind a desk.”
His ability to explain complex matters in simple terms make him the perfect liaison to local communities.
“I can have information to protect natural resources that I use in working with legislators and town officials [such as] planners and managers,” he notes.
He hopes this will be his legacy in the rural town he’s come to love.
“I’d like to be remembered as someone who tried to make a difference by protecting Exeter’s special character for future generations.”
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 .