When I moved to the Driftless Region of northeast Iowa a few years ago, it didn’t take long for me to know I’d be living here a long time. A vibrant, highly evolved community overflowing with arts, agriculture, and people passionate about cultivating community life and stewarding the land, the Decorah area seemed a bottomless pit of treasures I longed to delve into.
As it turns out, I’m not the only one who feels this way. At the end of my second year at Luther College, a curious new phrase began to circulate through our community--‘frac sand mine’. The concept of industrial silica sand mining was entirely alien to me; why would a mining company use Mountaintop Removal in the heart of the Midwest, obliterating the soil, vegetation, and thriving ecosystems of whole hills and valleys? The answer is simple: to a frac sand mining corporation, the ancient backyard of the Driftless Region is a bottomless pit of sandy treasure.
As Winneshiek County residents know, truckloads full of frac sand are truckloads full of cash for mining companies. But for the real people who live here, truckloads full of frac sand are years of poisoned water and air, a damaged tourist economy, and vast pieces of land that are permanently destroyed for future generations. And so, after quickly learning all the obvious reasons why frac sand mining should never happen anywhere near Winneshiek County, the solution was clear to me: “We simply won’t allow it!” In other words, when the mining company knocks on our door and politely asks if they can pack up our sand, we will calmly explain to them why they cannot and scold them away from asking anybody else the same.
Well, I decided to look into this process more intensively, and each new thing I learned astonished me more than the last. And so began the deep, painful plunge into the real world of industry, political systems, and the power that We, the People hold in our current system. Contrary to what I had believed for most of my life, people don’t actually have the legal authority to decide what happens to the communities in which they live. Well, local governments have the authority to set the speed limit on their Main Street and say how far gardens have to be from a street curb, but when it comes to large scale corporate theft of our health and natural resources, communities get tossed into a pit and buried in their own sand by corporate lawyers and even their own state. There is no asking permission, no negotiation, no say. When a highly destructive entity like a large factory farm, toxic waste incinerator, or frac sand mine announces its entry into our community, the only option we are given is to regulate its activity, ostensibly with the regulations the company itself wrote!
So what can we do? To the people who have been fiercely educating themselves on these issues since the frac sand storm started brewing more than a year ago, and to those who understand what it means to have the basic rights to self-governance and clean air and water, it is an injustice to our community and future generations to do anything other than BAN frac sand mining in Winneshiek County. And so, after months of research, it turns out my original gut instinct of “We simply won’t allow it,” wasn’t so naive after all. In fact, it is the obvious and only option. We can no longer allow the absurdity of corporations being able to wield their constitutional rights of “personhood” at the expense of common people and resources. We simply won’t allow it!
As a 20-year-old woman, I feel that much of the responsibility for rebuilding what the generations before me have destroyed rests on my shoulders and on the shoulders of my peers. We cannot afford to allow new harms to come to our shared communities and environment. Now is the time to reclaim our inherent right to build a future worth having for our children.
Annie ZylstraDecorah, Iowa