Not everyone ‘going ape’ over idea

Not everyone 'going ape' over idea
The rumors seem to be endless.

A nuclear po-wer plant is going to be built.

No, it's going to be a coal-fired power plant. Or a fuel cell manufacturer.

Some believe a large car assembly facility or a huge biodiesel refinery is destined to be constructed in Union County.

At any rate, tongues have been wagging for months now as talk has spread throughout Union and Clay counties about a top secret economic development plan code named "Gorilla."

In one of the most recent developments concerning this project, Richard E. White, an authorized agent of the Elk Point Economic Development Corporation, has been listed as buyer on eight real estate purchase agreements filed at the office of the Union County Register of Deeds in Elk Point.

The agreements give White an option to purchase land. The option term expires Aug. 31, but it may be extended.

People who likely would know of any potential positive effects to the region from this development – from Gov. Mike Rounds to Bruce Odson, president of the Elk Point Development Corporation – can't comment.

They have signed confidentiality agreements. So has Dawn Glover, the economic development corporation's executive director.

Rounds' only comment is this statement issued by his press secretary.

"The governor's office has had preliminary discussions concerning locating a large manufacturing facility in southern�South Dakota. It is our understanding that the company has several sites under review in the Midwest in various states. Because of the pro-business posture in South Dakota,�we are�one of the states that the company is seriously considering.�

"The governor's office feels that we have a good chance of being the state of choice.� There is much hard work yet to be done. The company wants to maintain their confidentiality as they continue their due diligence, and we respect their wishes. This project will provide a large number of jobs and will benefit South Dakota if the state is successful in attracting this facility."

Not everyone shares the belief that attracting this project will benefit the state or the region.

Burdette Hanson, 84, who has lived his entire life in Brule Township, doesn't plan to sign a purchase agreement despite owning several quarter sections in the region sought after by the developers.

"I'm 100 percent against it," Hanson said. "I've bought these farms and I've paid for them and cleaned them up and I don't want a check for them. I want my land."

If Hanson's information is correct, the project developers are hoping to eventually own 5,000 acres in Union County – half of that area would contain the actual industry, and the other half would serve as a buffer around it.

"I don't want 2,500 to 2,600 people working here, tearing the territory up," he added. "Our grandfathers and fathers have modernized the territory so we all have a nice place to live, and they're just going to destroy it."

A new development may provide a number of white collar employment opportunities, but there will also be a need for blue collar workers, Hanson said. He also believes an influx of new people will initially put a strain on local communities and their services, and likely cause taxes to increase.

Kathy Lessek, who lives on an acreage in Union County, notes that talk of the development is a source of anxiety.

"I don't know how acreage people will be compensated if the project would come in," Lessek, who owns five acres, said. "We have no leverage to negotiate with. We are at the mercy of landowners and the project."

Whether local economic developers are successful in their efforts to land the project isn't a major concern to acreage owners, she added.

"We're kind of the bottom of the food chain out here," Lessek said, "without any leverage to negotiate with. If they did come in and our land would be rezoned industrial, we would lose a great deal of value in our property."

People on the periphery of the project area fear about their future quality of life, Lessek said. "In the beginning, there was a lot of anxiety about what it is. At this point, for a lot of people it doesn't really matter what it is. It's just that they are concerned about their own financial well-being."

She noted that she understands the need for secrecy in economic development, "but I think there could have been a better job of handling all of the rumors that pop up when you're going out to individual people."

Some property owners who have been asked to sign purchase agreements are undecided and agonizing about what to do.

Lyle Wagner, of Vermillion, who owns farmland in Union County, hasn't yet made a decision.

He's hesitant because the desired property "is my mother's homestead and my father's homestead and my grandfather's homestead," Wagner said. "That concerns me, and of course we don't know what it is."

Wagner said he finds comfort, however, in knowing that men like Gov. Rounds and Bruce Odson are in favor of the project.

"I guess I have to place some trust in those people," he said. "I don't feel Gov. Rounds would do anything that would be detrimental to the area, and I know Bruce Odson, and I also feel the same about him."

Lessek said the project may represent too much change for Union County landowners.

"I would hope that if it would be a good thing for our country or for us, it would get to go someplace, but it's going to have a tough row to hoe here, I think," she said.

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