Date of Award

12-2009

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Communication

Advisor

Nathan E. Stormer

Second Committee Member

Laura Lindenfeld

Third Committee Member

Charlie Morris

Abstract

This paper is a case study analyzing the decision-making process for a small, town-owned ski area in Maine to determine the place of environmental sustainability within it. Key decision-making players are identified and interviewed to determine the environmental knowledge they hold and the ways this knowledge figures into town decisions. Decision-makers are also asked about their views on public participation, a critical element for decisions directly affecting communities. Information gathered through these key interviews is then compared to an analysis of public documents, revealing gaps between decision-maker intentions and sound policy. The community in which the object of analysis resides has unique qualities not only because it owns and operates a ski area but also because it has a strong positive orientation towards the environment. This study discovers that despite community dedication to the environment, environmental awareness is only minimally driven from within the system and is instead steered by external interest groups that apply the pressure needed to create environmental change. Economic issues are consistent decision criterion and environmental issues are only occasional criterion due to a lack of formal policy for the inclusion of environmental topics in town decision-making, In addition to the need to consistently address environmental issues within the town decision-making structure, citizen participation remains critical to maintaining a sound decision-making process. This study analyzes recent "community feedback forums" developed by the ski area in efforts to engage the public and receive input on specific redevelopment needs. A common public participation barrier that was observed is decision-maker satisfaction with the quantity of participation opportunities over the quality of participation. The current participation system appears to serve the decisionmaker need to legitimize decisions responsible to the town instead of building a long-term, trust relationship. This study concludes that the ski area, and the town that owns and operates it, have a strong need for formal environmental policy procedures and the need for public participation review procedures. Differences of opinion among decision-makers and inconsistent levels of environmental attention from interest groups make sustainability efforts inconsistent. Formal policy would lessen the burden on these groups to initiate change and would make environmental and economic conflicts more addressable. Decision-maker preference for voting and other quantity-based forms of public participation hinders organizational trust between the community and the ski area and town. Organizational trust can be achieved should the town adopt a mode of evaluating both the quantity and quality of public participation and use feedback to improve the participation format. The author commends the ski area and town for their strong commitment to environmental sustainability and preservation of natural resources. The suggestions to improve the decision-making system and public participation process will serve to ensure environmental consciousness in town decision-making over time as issues, key leaders, and groups grow and change. The author suggests the town consult outside assistance in order to make more environmentally minded decisions. The expertise of consulting professionals will lessen the burden on the town of making critical environmental decisions on their own.

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