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Udall group’s mediations to multiply in Obama era

Citizen Staff Writer
Our Opinion

Layoffs, cutbacks and business closures have dominated local news recently, so it’s great to learn that one Tucson-based entity may be tripling its workload in the next several years.

The Morris K. Udall Foundation might seem tiny, with a staff of 30 in a quaint edifice downtown.

But its accomplishments are enormous, especially through its U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution – an entity started 10 years ago at the suggestion of U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Engaging mediators nationwide, the institute helps polarized factions in environmental conflicts reach a mutually acceptable middle ground.

And it does so using many of the methods prized by President Obama: conflict prevention, transparency, ongoing conversations, participatory dialogue, mediation and collaboration.

The outcome almost always benefits every party involved – such as when the institute worked with Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and local neighborhoods where jet noise had become a bone of contention.

Community members sought help from the Udall Foundation, and the ensuing dialogue led to formation of the Military Community Compatibility Committee, resulting in a plan to cut noise without eroding military training. The bonus is a greatly improved relationship between the community and D-M.

We believe the institute’s approach is more important now than ever, for several reasons:

• Amid dwindling energy resources and escalating climate change, the U.S. must find ways to address environmental conflicts effectively.

• In this economic downturn, such resolutions must be crafted in ways that still will allow developments to proceed, particularly when they will create jobs and otherwise stimulate the economy.

• Most important, for a nation that for too long has been polarized and bifurcated by politics, the prospect of bringing people together and healing rifts through mediation signals a major sea change.

And that’s a change Americans clearly want, as voters showed when they elected Obama.

The new president repeatedly has demonstrated his preference for moderate, middle-of-the-road positions and for deep, sustained dialogue before determinations are made.

That mirrors the work of the Tucson foundation, so it’s no wonder the local unit is being tapped to do more.

We commend the Udall Foundation staff not only for resolving conflicts, but also for injecting civility and sanity into once-heated disputes.

Their work brings great promise to a beleaguered nation and instills us with – dare we say it? – hope.

Mediation doesn’t just fix things; it also builds positive relationships, which America can surely use these days.

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