Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias Maybe I'm in the midst of mentally extrapolating the impact that various issues are having on us to the extreme.

But I swear, the more you think about certain challenges we are facing, the more they begin to resemble each other.

I ask your patience as I try my best to lead you down the somewhat bumpy thought processes I experience as I read the news every day.

Consider this: About a week or so ago, South Dakota's junior senator and Vermillion home-town boy, Tim Johnson, convinced the U.S. Senate to accept his amendment to the farm bill that will not allow large meat packers to own livestock for more than 14 days.

The head of Smithfield Foods, owner of Morrell's, says that if such an amendment passed, it could force the Sioux Falls meat packer to close down. Smithfield would no longer be able to invest in South Dakota nor would it be able to upgrade the 91-year old plant.

Call this man's threat blackmail. Call it whatever you want to, but the issue is without the John Morrell Company in Sioux Falls, some 3,200 people working there would be out of work and some 6,000 additional jobs would be indirectly negatively affected. It would also be the end of a market that hundreds of hog raisers depend on today.

Now consider this: For nearly a year-and-a-half now, the city has been trying to get the Chestnut Street improvement project off the drawing board. (I know, you're thinking, how are Chestnut Street and Morrell's related in any way? Bear with me.)

One of the strange things about Chestnut Street is how the Vermillion City Council has approached this project from the very beginning.

Back in 2001, in fact, even in late 2000, the council apparently agreed the street needed to be improved. The council went to special lengths to secure the necessary funding for the work.

The project appeared to have the green light. Then the trolley jumped the tracks, so to speak, and try as it might, the council can't seem to make progress on fixing this dangerous road.

Strangely enough, the first person to voice concern about the street was Alderman Barbara Yelverton back in late 2000-early 2001, after she and other members of the Vermillion City Council approved the city's annual budget for that fiscal year that included the funding for the project.

Everyone has the right to change his or her mind, I guess. What's troubling is that over a year ago, the council, by approving the funding for the street project, more or less assured the Vermillion community that the work would indeed be done.

Now there are three aldermen who, through their comments and public votes, have indicated they oppose the proposed street work. They talk about a less expensive option that will leave the city with a road that's not much better than what's already there.

There are property owners along Chestnut Street that have consistently expressed their opposition to the plans to improve the route. They have made it known that they are prepared to go to court. They have warned the city that litigation will be time consuming and costly.

Add to this the fact that at least two property owners have made counter offers to sell their real estate to the city at prices that are much higher than the land is assessed at, and it all begins to feel a bit like blackmail.

There. I said it. I've tried to be gentle when discussing this issue. I've suggested in previous editorials that the city not use the heavy heel of condemnation, that it just make an outright purchase of the property it needs, even at ridiculously high prices.

I just want everyone to be happy. And I want to see the road improved.

This reminds me of a comment Johnson made recently. He said if he is forced to choose between South Dakota farmers and ranchers and the possibility that Morrell may close its doors in Sioux Falls, he would choose on the side of the farmers.

Is the city council finding itself being forced to make decisions about Chestnut Street? Are we to the point where our civic leaders are starting to feel pressure to the point it may actually sway them to change their views on this issue?

If they are, we hope they will consider all sides, especially since, in all of the discussions about improving Chestnut, an important party, or more accurately, parties haven't received much attention in recent months.

There indeed are Vermillion citizens who want to see the street widened so that it can serve as a safe transportation link in the southern part of the city.

We feel certain that the number of people who want the road improved outnumber those who have found every reason under the sun to oppose the work, from safety issues (as if Chestnut is not dangerous now) to increased traffic, to lighting.

We ask the city council to do the right thing. Think of all of us. Don't be swayed by a raucous minority you're likely to face at Monday's public meeting to discuss the project.

We're not suggesting you tune anyone out. But if the objections you hear are the same old arguments that have been raised time and time again, we have just one suggestion.

Move on. It's time to get something done.

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