Thursday, October 24, 2013

We Can Begin a True American Democracy - Heidi Olstad and Janet Alexander Letter to Editor

The Department (DNR) is not authorized to deny an application that satisfies statutory and rule requirements as this application does”. That's the quote from the DNR in Sarah Strandberg's article on the Environmental Protection Commission's unanimous approval of a permit for the expansion of Millenium Agricultural corporation's factory farm in Highland Township. The article also quotes DNR spokesperson Kevin Baskins who said that the EPC members “questioned whether they had the authority to deny the permit since it was for the expansion of an existing facility.”.

What we are hearing loud and clear is that the State trumps our local right to determine what damage is allowable to our environmental and community health. The DNR and the EPC clearly do not protect our communities. They are a pathway that channels our local communities into a process that has no interest and, according to the DNR, no authority to protect our community health and welfare. No matter how it affects our water and wells, no matter what direction the fumes are wafting, no matter that children, wildlife, neighbors, aquifers, ecosystems, or human communities are affected.

We are so grateful for the strong, thoughtful and dignified stand that our Winneshiek County Supervisors took and their willingness to vote unanimously against the expansion of a factory farm in a particularly sensitive area of our county. Since the DNR and EPC cannot and will not protect us, we need to invest our County Board of Supervisors with more authority.

It feels surreal to those of us who have been paying attention--and downright shocking to folks who have just been too busy with their gardens and crops, children and churches--to notice the awkwardness of a “legally allowable” pollution that we can do nothing about. We, the People, and the Supervisors we elected, have no say.

Let's pause for a moment to digest that.

This is not the first time that we Americans have been forced to recognize that someone who is not looking out for our best interests is running away with our rights. The next usurpation of our neighborhood will be frac sand mining—another legally allowable devastation of our county and our fragile karst topography. Our supervisors might also choose to protect us from frac sand mining, to no avail, when the state determines that we as citizens of the county have no say in that decision either.

Let's choose to be proactive this time. Let's choose to say that we will declare with our Supervisors, with our children, and with our community that we have rights. We have the right to our already clean air and water and soil, and we, the people of Winneshiek County, can write a community ordinance that says that we will govern our own region, with the powers invested in our own people, to determine that we are more important, more powerful than any corporation in choosing how our commonly held nature will be used and enjoyed. We can choose to band together and design a rights-based ordinance which declares our county’s sovereignty to determine for ourselves how we will live. We will decide our own fate, and it can be blue and green and beautiful. And we can begin a true American democracy.

The Community Rights Alliance of Winneshiek County is working on an ordinance to present to our Board of Supervisors that will do just that. 155 communities in the United States have adopted such ordinances that are protecting their communities from corporate harms that threaten them. We ask that our County Supervisors take the next step and adopt a community rights ordinance that reclaims the power of our local community.

As Winneshiek County Supervisor John Logsdon says, “ Any experience I've had like this with the DNR.....or the EPC, you're pretty much delaying the inevitable. Until we get legislation to change those policies, they will remain the same”. We welcome all who are interested in learning more about community rights' ordinances to contact us at 563-382-8013 or by email at

Heidi Olstad, Sattre, Iowa
Janet Alexander, Pleasant Township
for Community Rights Alliance of Winneshiek County
October 24, 2013

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