Last night, my conference room was packed with Rice County residents who have participated in land use issues in rural Rice County. It was a diverse group, ranging from “the usual suspects” to farmers, lake residents, and everything in between, and they are all frustrated with the procedural improprieties of the Rice County Board of Commissioners and the Rice County Planning Commission.

The Rice County Commissioners for each of the Districts are:
District 1 – Jake Gillen
District 2 – Jessica Peterson
District 3 – Milt Plaisance
District 4 – Steve Bauer
District 5 – Jim Brown

Here?s what the Faribault Daily News had to say about a citizen’s legitimate Environmental Assessment Worksheet Petition in Rice County:

Facility met environmental guidelines

Sunday, March 13, 2005

There are some who live in Rice County who believe that any type of
development, no matter it’s size, needs to be studied to the point
of exhaustion, to the point that it would curb economic growth in
the county.

For instance, a group of petitioners last week asked the Rice County
Board to force a Northfield area farmer to complete an environmental
assessment worksheet (EAW) on a project where he is going to
construct two hog finishing barns on land he purchased from his
father. Matt Hanson plans to develop the hog raising venture on 15
acres in Wheeling township.

The petitioners asked that the county board demand Hanson to conduct
a discretionary EAW on the project even though according to state
guidelines the project didn’t require one. The members of the group
said that the EAW was necessary because the hog facility will have
an impact on the Cannon River Watershed.

They’re correct, it will have an impact. But the state also has
guidelines in place to determine when a project such as Hanson’s
needs to complete an EAW and his project fell beneath those
guidelines according to county officials. That means the county
board was acting responsibly Tuesday when it ruled that an EAW was
not needed for the project.

County officials do need to think about maintaining and protecting
the land, water and environment in Rice County, but they are also
charged with caring for the economic vitality of the county. And
just as it did with Hanson’s hog facility, those interests will
continually come into conflict with each other as Rice County’s
population grows and more commercial, industrial, agricultural and
residential development takes place.

The state has environmental guidelines in place, as does the county.
And when appropriate county officials should follow the guidelines
to ensure that development in Rice County is planned intelligently
and in the best interests of all, but county officials don’t have to
make it impossible for developers, entrepreneurs or homeowners to do
business in the county.

When additional environmental study is warranted for a project the
county board shouldn’t hesitate to demand it happen, but then again,
when a project meets the state and county environmental guidelines
the board has an obligation to let the project happen. That’s what
they did in the case of Hanson’s hog facility.

Here’s more information on that particular Petition. The Cannon River Watershed Partnership had concerns about the environmental review and entered comments on the record.

The Northfield League of Women Voters have an observer at most local governmental meetings, and the observer’s comments are posted. County Board meeting attendees have observed regular violation of the state’s rules regarding EAW Petitions, and as noted in the LWV observation of the April 5 meeting, above, important items are regularly not on the agenda and there is no way for citizens to know if an item of interest will be discussed or acted on. Recently, a citizen was lambasted at a Planning Commission meeting and in the Northfield News by the Planning Commission Chair for asking questions! GASP! A CITIZEN ASKING QUESTIONS???? Can’t have that, now, can we!


Wednesday, March 30, 2005

To the editor:

Why is the Daily News editorially taking up the abusive tactics of
the county, shaming residents for use of the only tools available to
protect their community and to make the county comply with the law?
Have the Daily News, Rice County Board and Rice County Planning
Commission looked at the county’s definition of “animal unit,” the
thresholds for a mandatory and discretionary Environmental
Assessment Worksheet, and the meaning of “cumulative impact?” The
rule governing EAW petitions is clear: “No final governmental
approvals may be given to the project named in the petition, nor may
any construction be started, until the need for an EAW has been
determined.” In making its EAW determination, the board cannot
disregard the petition; instead it must make specific findings
supporting its decision regarding the petition.

I’m astounded that the county so branzenly acts with disregard for
legitimate EAW petitions, taking actions before the EAW petition
determination has been made. The county has a disturbing pattern of
disregard of environmental law and citizen participation. The Daily
News, by its editorials, heaps disdain upon disregard.

Both the Daily News and the county use their positions of power to
shame those citizens working to protect the public interest, which
can only have a chilling effect or lead to revolt. The Faribault
Daily News must review the letter issued by EQB staff which explains
and supports the citizens’ right to petition. But evidence suggests
that the Daily News and the county have little regard for facts or
the law and the rights of citizens to preserve their community. Last
time I checked, it was the job of a newspaper not to quash, but to
inform the public. And it’s the job of citizens to petition and keep
the “government of the people” honest. If they’re not honest, it’s
time to throw them out with gusto!

Carol A. Overland
Attorney for a number of EAW Petitioners in Rice County

So what were we planning last night? Stay tuned…

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