Escalante House - Housing Community for People with MCS

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ESCALANTE HOUSE
  P.O. Box 652
      Escalante UT 84726
Phone/Fax:  (435) 826-4778
E-mail: toripat@color-country.net

Proposal to Build a Housing Community for People with MCS

Background Information


Escalante House is a nonprofit, non-religious organization with 
three guiding principles:  conservation, creativity, and compassion.  
Two of our six board members have Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS).  
We have one staff person (Tori Woodard), who is a professional 
grantwriter.  We have two active projects:  the Escalante Wilderness 
Project and the MCS Housing and Convalescent Center Project.

In December 1999 Escalante House received $20,000 start-up money 
for our MCS housing project.  We have located suitable land for the 
project, which we describe below.  The next step is to conduct a survey 
to determine if enough people with MCS are interested in participating 
in our project to warrant proceeding with it.  The survey questionnaire 
is enclosed.

We are currently negotiating with the State of Utah to locate 
the MCS housing on 325 acres of land owned by the State three miles 
south of Escalante, Utah.  The State wants to develop the land "in a 
year or two".  If these negotiations do not work out, we will search for 
other suitable land.

The proposed site is bordered by the new Grand 
Staircase-Escalante National Monument on three sides (the south, the 
west, and part of the north).  The prevailing wind blows from the 
southwest, and reaches the site after crossing seventy miles of the 
empty Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  Therefore the 
ambient air should be some of the cleanest in the lower 48 states.  

The western 100 acres of the proposed site (against the Monument 
boundary) are located on steep talus slopes at the base of 800-foot 
cliffs.  The portions of the site where housing could be located are 
approximately 100 acres of hills and benches with striking rock outcrops 
(lightly forested with pinyon and juniper trees) and approximately 100 
acres of flat, unforested pasture.  From every vantage point on the 
proposed site, one has a view of the spectacular cliffs that surround 
Escalante Valley.

Our vision for the MCS housing community is evolving as we learn 
what people with MCS need, what the State of Utah wants, and what 
Garfield County requires.  We will not need to meet any Escalante City 
requirements because the site is located outside of the city limits.

Garfield County requires six acres for every homesite.  That 
means there could be up to 54 homesites on the proposed site.  We are 
currently thinking of offering 50 six-acre homesites to people with MCS, 
and reserving the other four sites (25 acres) for a community center, 
camping area, and low-income apartment or cottage complex.  The 
community center could include a medical clinic, meeting room(s), 
kitchen and showers for campers, cafeteria, offices for staff, small 
auditorium for theater and musical performances, natural food store, and 
workspaces for residents, such as offices, studios, or workshops.

If we enter an agreement with the State of Utah, Escalante House 
(or a spin-off) would be the developer of the subdivision.  We would 
seek grants from foundations for improvements (telephone, power, water 
wells, septic, and roads).  Individuals wanting to build their own homes 
would each purchase 6 acres from the State and pay an impact fee to 
Escalante House for the improvements.  Escalante House would then use 
the impact fee revenue to build the community center.  Grants from 
foundations and/or HUD would be used to build the low-income housing 
complex.

Residents will be required to sign covenants and restrictions 
designed to protect the air quality, environment, and appearance of the 
housing community.  For example, wood-burning stoves, coal and fuel oil 
furnaces, and the use of fabric softener in laundry dryers will be 
prohibited.  We are considering requiring all homes to be wheelchair 
accessible and built in the southwestern pueblo style.  We may prohibit 
cats and dogs from the MCS community, in order to protect present and 
future residents who have allergies and to protect the wildlife 
(rabbits, squirrels, and birds) who live on the property.

All structures built by Escalante House will be constructed of 
natural materials recommended by experts such as Dr. Rea in his book 
Chemical Sensitivity and John Bower in his book Healthy House Building. 
We will also hire a consultant with experience in building EI-safe 
homes.  We hope to build individualized EI-safe units for specific 
people, using the materials that they each tolerate best.  One of the 
purposes of the enclosed survey is to find those specific people.

In order to reduce resident exposure to car fumes, we are 
considering constructing a central parking lot or structure near the 
northeast entrance to the site.  Passengers and their cargo would 
transfer to community-owned electrically-powered carts or larger 
vehicles that would access the community center, camping area and homes 
via one-way, concrete roads.  

On an even more visionary level, our community could be a 
showcase for environmentally-safe, environmentally-friendly technology. 
The community center and low-income housing complex could employ 
alternative energy design and technology.  Homebuilders could be 
encouraged to do the same.

Your answers to the accompanying questionnaire will help us 
determine if these ideas match your needs.  


THE CLIMATE AND SURROUNDING COMMUNITY

The proposed MCS housing site is located in south central Utah 
in Garfield County.  Garfield County is roughly the same size as 
Connecticut but has a population of only 4,500 people.  Ninety-eight 
percent of Garfield County is public land, consisting of red-rock 
canyons, forested mountains, and flat plateaus.  Garfield County is the 
home of world-famous Bryce Canyon National Park, much of Glen Canyon 
National Recreation Area and the new Grand Staircase-Escalante National 
Monument, and the southern part of Capitol Reef National Park.  The 
closest town to the site (Escalante) has a population of 1,000, with 
about 200 other people living nearby outside the city limits.  

The MCS housing community will be at nearly 6,000 feet 
elevation.  This is an ideal location for people who react to mold, but 
may not be right for people with emphysema or other conditions that may 
worsen at higher elevations.

There is an existing blacktop road from Escalante to the 
northeast corner of the proposed housing site.  There is a landing strip 
2 miles northeast of the site (as the raven flies; six miles by road).  
Escalante City is upgrading the landing strip to accommodate 
10-passenger, twin-engine airplanes.  The closest airport served by 
commercial airlines is 120 miles away in Cedar City, Utah.  There is no 
public transportation in Garfield County.  The closest railroad is 
hundreds of miles away.

East of the proposed site are three hundred acres of 
privately-owned, undeveloped open space.  Farther to the east are 
alfalfa fields, punctuated by a few residences.  There is a small cattle 
feedlot 1/2 mile from the northeast corner of the proposed MCS housing 
site.  There is a large sawmill two miles east of the site.  

The climate of Escalante is dry, with an average annual 
precipitation of about 12 inches.  The first frost comes at the end of 
September, and is typically followed by a month of warm weather.  The 
last frost in spring is around May 15, but is preceded by warm weather 
that can start as early as February.  Temperatures typically drop into 
the 'teens at night in the dead of winter (and can fall much lower in a 
hard winter), but they often reach the fifties during the day.  
Temperatures reach the mid-nineties in the summer, but are often 
moderated by monsoon rains in July and August.

The Escalante area has some natural air-borne particulates that 
may irritate some people.  The pollen count can be high if rainfall is 
high in the summer.  The pinyon trees and junipers present on the 
property may bother some people.  Sometimes the wind blows strongly, 
kicking up dust. 

There are few mosquitos in the Escalante area, so neither the 
City nor the County spray pesticides to control them.  The only 
herbicide application that we are aware of may be along Highway 12, 
which is at least three miles from the proposed housing site.  The only 
commercial crop grown in the Escalante area is alfalfa.  Neither 
pesticides nor herbicides are applied to the alfalfa fields.

The MCS community must be built outside of the city limits in 
order to protect residents from local sources of air pollution (coal- 
and diesel-burning furnaces, wood stoves, pickup trucks and farm 
machinery that never get smog checked, laundry odors, etc.)  Also, the 
air inside the local bank and city offices is presently contaminated 
with air freshener.  

Escalante has two mom-and-pop grocery stores, a small hardware 
store, a bank, a post office, two auto repair shops, a barber, three 
restaurants, a frosty shop, five motels, two bed-and-breakfasts, three 
gas stations, an RV park, several realtors, and several gift shops.  
Friends of ours are talking about opening a natural food store and an 
artists' co-op.  There are many opportunities for small-scale 
entrepreneurial ventures.

The nearest hospital is in the county seat, Panguitch, about 70 
miles to the west over two "summits" (7400' and 7616').  A medical 
clinic in Escalante is open three days a week.  A chiropractor visits 
Escalante every two weeks, and will come more often in response to 
demand.

The closest supermarkets, discount marts, and health food store 
are 120 miles to the west in Cedar City, over a third "summit".  The 
nearest health food store carrying fresh organic produce is a four-hour 
drive to the north, in Provo, Utah.  However, organic produce is 
available from local gardens from May through November.  We could extend 
the growing season year-round with a heated greenhouse.  Escalante 
residents have formed several buying co-ops, including one with a health 
food distributor named Tucson Cooperative Warehouse.  

The local economy is fueled 37% by unearned income (pensions, 
Social Security, sales of real estate, etc).  The largest employer is 
the federal government (jobs with the Forest Service, National Park 
Service, and the Bureau of Land Management).  The largest private 
employer in the County is Ruby's Inn located next to Bryce Canyon.  The 
largest private employers in Escalante are the sawmill and the local 
telephone company (about 75 jobs each).  Other Escalante residents find 
work in the elementary and high schools, motels and restaurants, and a 
residential program for troubled youth.  Several families graze cattle 
on the surrounding public land, but this traditional occupation no 
longer produces income.  The alfalfa fields surrounding Escalante are 
owned by several different families, who supplement their income by 
selling alfalfa hay in years when there is sufficient rainfall to grow 
more than one crop.

Generally speaking, people interested in the MCS housing 
community should not expect to find local jobs immediately.  However, 
Escalante House is committed to helping bring environmentally-friendly 
economic development to our town, so there is great potential for 
employment or self-employment in the future.  We envision that, when 
fully operational, the MCS housing community itself will generate about 
25 jobs.  Residents would get priority when applying for any of these 
jobs for which they might qualify.

The maximum SSI payment in Utah is $512 per month.  The State of 
Utah does not supplement the federal portion of SSI payments.

80% of the residents of Escalante belong to the Church of Jesus 
Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon or "LDS" Church); however, only 
about 20% attend services regularly.  Escalante also has a community 
Baptist church and a fledgling Catholic church.

Most Escalante residents are friendly to newcomers, but some of 
them become unfriendly if newcomers are politically active in unpopular 
causes, such as environmental protection.  Our proposed housing 
community may encounter resistance because several of our board members 
are environmental activists.

NEXT STEPS

If, after reading this information, you feel you may be 
interested in participating in our proposed MCS housing community, we 
invite you to fill out the survey questionnaire that we will send in a 
separate e-mail.  Please tell others about our project and encourage 
them to fill out a questionnaire too.  If your health allows you to 
travel, contact us to arrange a visit to the Escalante area so that you 
can see the proposed site and determine if the environment and climate 
are right for you.

Finally, we will form an Advisory Board this summer to steer the 
MCS housing project.  If you would like to help plan the project and 
bring it to fruition, we welcome you to apply for a position on the 
board.


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