Environmental Conflict Resolution
Pipelines, Water and Other Controversial Development Infrastructure
On April 3rd, 2017, the Conflict Resolution Institute collaborated with the regional network of the Environment and Public Policy (EPP) section of the Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR) to host a panel and professional networking event called Pipelines, Water, and Other Controversial Development Infrastructure. This environmental conflict resolution event was an excellent opportunity for students and alumni to meet and network with practitioners in the fields of conflict resolution, mediation, facilitation, collaborative governance, civic engagement, and policy development.
The opening panel was comprised of Dan Birch from the Colorado River District, Seth Cohen from the US Army Corps of Engineers, and Michael Hughes from Hughes Collaboration. Each contributed unique insight and expertise. Birch specializes in bringing stakeholders together for complex water infrastructure projects in Colorado. Cohen facilitates meetings on challenging water resource issues such as flood risk management, watershed planning, dam and levee safety, and tribal consultation meetings for the Corps' Water Resources and USACE Collaboration and Public Participation Center of Expertise. Lastly, Mr. Hughes has nearly three decades of environmental conflict resolution experience all over the nation, including extensive work in infrastructure siting.
The three panelists highlighted various factors of environmental conflict, including the complexities of working with residents and government agencies, as well as the associated confusion, conflict, and bureaucracy. The panel discussed the significance of engaging the stakeholders in the process. Invested parties bring their values and interests with them to the table. For example, Cohen facilitated a conversation with 20 tribes around greater autonomy and involvement in a pipeline project on their tribal lands. His role as facilitator was particularly difficult as the tribes did not trust government or corporation involvement, or even the data from hired surveyed crews. The tribes were concerned that outside entities would ultimately destroy their sacred sites. Cohen's work of engaging stakeholders was an effective means of resolving the conflict, and his story was a learning experience for the audience.
Following the panel discussions, the floor was opened to questions from the audience, including questions about entering the field and the future of government agencies in conflict resolution. After the panel concluded, students, professionals, alumni and community members in attendance had an opportunity to network over wine cheese and hors d'oeuvre. Several alumni working in environment and public policy conflict resolution returned to reconnect with each other and faculty, and proved inspiring for current students.
~ Emily Zmak, MA '18