It is clear to me that the citizens of Winneshiek County don’t want frac sand mining. And for very good reason. Industrial scale silica mining has a track record of wreaking havoc on robust tourism economies, permanently diminishing natural systems and landscapes, threatening public health, and drastically lowering property values for those who choose to stand their ground and not sell out. So the question remains: How do we most effectively prevent the frac sand industry from strip-mining our county?
An insight into how to answer this question comes from the experience of former Santa Fe County commissioner Harry Montoya. “We adopted an ordinance that regulates how drilling for oil and gas can be done within the county. As a regulatory ordinance, it automatically allows the drilling to occur — it just makes it more expensive to do so. When natural gas or oil prices rise to the point where it’s cost-effective to comply with the requirements of our ordinance (or to bear the cost of suing to overturn parts of it), Santa Fe County will be drilled… If I had the choice again, as a county commissioner, I would choose to go in a different direction — the one that Mora County has gone.” (Santa Fe New Mexican 11/30/13)
What had Mora County done differently? In April of 2013, Mora County N.M. adopted a Community Bill of Rights in order to protect themselves from oil and natural gas drilling. Included in the ordinance were “Right to Water” and “Right to Self-Government”. It is important to specifically articulate and assert these basic rights because our law does not currently recognize them, and because deep-pocketed corporate minorities have gained the upper hand on community majorities.
There are over 150 communities that have passed similar rights-based ordinances as the one passed by Mora County, including the city of Pittsburg. These ordinances have held up incredibly well because they circumvent an unjust regulatory system that forces harm into communities, while also dismissing the notion that corporations deserve constitutional rights and protections.
In closing, a quote from Mr. Montoya’s letter that addresses the dilemma (and opportunity) we face here in Winneshiek County, and across this country: “Mora [County] commissioners recognized that we have to make a choice — that we can either accept the system of law as it has been given to us (which guarantees that we’ll be drilled because the extraction corporations have more “rights” than we do), or we can begin to build a new system of law that forces those corporations to respect local laws that protect the health, safety and welfare of our communities.”
You can visit communityrightsalliance.org and the Facebook page to learn more about the local effort in Winneshiek County. I am convinced a rights-based ordinance that bans frac sand mining is the way forward.
(Submitted to Decorah Newspapers, Ossian Bee, Calmar Courier, Decorah News)