Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias The citizens of Clay County support agriculture, they just don't want anyone to be too successful at it.

Most people in the county would disagree with that statement, but that's certainly the way the business climate in Clay County must look to people in other South Dakota counties, and to our neighbors in Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa.

And these just aren't casual observers. These are people with money to invest in business, industry and agriculture.

It would be no shock to learn that they may look at the business climate in Clay County, particularly agribusiness, and end up taking their money elsewhere.

That's why Tuesday's vote in Clay County is so important. As the Nov. 7 presidential election has so painfully taught us, every one of our votes do count.

It's critical that people of the county who favor progress in not only agriculture but also other areas of commerce vote in favor of a zone change in Riverside Township.

The Vermillion Plain Talk and Wakonda Times have reported on this issue since it first arose before the Clay County Commission last summer.

Brad Trudeau of Centerville asked the commission to approve his application to change the zoning of a tract of agricultural land in Riverside Township to I-2 (industrial) so that he could construct a fertilizer plant at that location.

Both the county zoning board and the county commission reviewed the facts, and approved the zoning change. It was a decision they knew would be controversial.

A majority of 60 people who attended an Aug. 8 commission meeting appeared to be concerned about the impact the plant may have on the environment, particularly on ground water. Those concerns were voiced again at an Aug. 29 meeting.

The decision ultimately was referred to the Nov. 21 public vote when petitions with more than the required 426 valid signatures were filed with the county auditor's office in September.

Many of the people who signed those petitions are genuinely concerned about the world around them.

Caring about the soil and the water and how we use our natural resources in Clay County is commendable.

This effort can, at best, garner only faint praise, however.

The opponents of Trudeau's proposed business are currently making mountains out of minutia.

To make their case, they are waging a campaign of fear and exaggeration.

The Clay County Commission, as we stated earlier, based its decision last August on facts. Let's review the facts more closely.

Fact: The U.S. Geological Survey has stated there is no threat unless an accident or catastrophe occurs and products are released outside of the plant's containment area.

Fact: Data shows the subsoil at the proposed site consists of a thick layer of clay between the surface and the underlying aquifer.

Fact: Derrick Iles, a state geologist with the Geological Survey Program at The University of South Dakota, told the Vermillion City Council in late September that the fertilizer plant will be resting on a thick bed of clay, and added that water in the aquifer in that region moves very slowly.

Fact: Should a catastrophic spill occur at the fertilizer plant, Iles said, "it would have to soak through the clays and the silts that are present at the land surface out there, and then get down to the water table, and assuming that it did that, then it would have start migrating in the direction of the groundwater flow."

Fact: Iles told the city council, "If the spill flowed in a straight line in a southerly direction from the plant site, "the best estimate that we have at this point in time is that it would take 25 years for the water to get that far (to the aquifer), and that's why our opinion is that there is no real imminent threat to the Clay Rural Water well field."

Fact: If a spill occurred, there would be ample time for people to respond. Mother Nature would also help. "There would be a tremendous amount of dilution that would go on, there would be biological activity that would help to degrade the contaminants into something else less harmful, so there are a lot of reasons we are not concerned," Iles told the city council, adding that the Vermillion River, located south of the proposed plant site, also acts as a discharge point for shallow ground water. "You have a natural barrier to shallow contaminants," he said.

Fact: The fertilizer plant poses virtually no threat to the aquifer that the city of Vermillion taps for water. "You're probably looking at greater than 600 years of travel time for a spill to get down here," Iles said.

Fact: Some clarifications need to be made concerning the information contained in some of our letters to the editor. Vikki Eilts and Patricia Knutson state that county commissioners are not lawmakers. That's not true. A role of the county commission is to create new or amend existing county resolutions or ordinances (laws). They are indeed like legislators at the county level.

Fact: Mary Ann Hart does a disservice when she quotes Stan Pence from the South Dakota Geological Survey. Pence did say at a county commission hearing, as Hart writes, "There's a right to be concerned in regards to contamination…"

What Hart doesn't include in her letter is the rest of his statement, which he uttered in practically the same breath: "If there is contamination that occurred in the area of Clay Rural Water, the likelihood of it affecting Vermillion's water supply is almost zero simply because of the distance between those locations."

Some Clay County citizens are schizophrenic about agriculture. They say they support farming and other related agribusinesses, and then do whatever they can to keep agriculture from changing with the times.

It's time to do what's right. Vote to uphold the zoning change.

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