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At this stage of the game, would adopting an ordinance banning frac-sand extraction violate the Board of Supervisors’ oath of office? 

Supervisor Dean Thompson thinks it might. 

During the Supervisors meeting Monday, the Board met with representatives from the Community Rights Alliance (CRA), a group of concerned citizens, which last month presented the Board with a proposed ordinance. The ordinance would establish a community bill of rights and ban the extraction of frac sand in the county, “declaring the rights of the citizens of the county as primary over the rights of corporations.”

Thompson said in setting an 18-month moratorium on conditional-use permits for frac-sand mining, the Board had followed Iowa Code. Thompson conveyed that as elected officials, the Supervisors are bound by local, state and federal legislation. 

After studying the ordinance proposed by the CRA, the supervisors expressed some concerns in a question-and-answer session with the group. Representing the CRA at Monday’ s meeting were Hannah McCargar, Lara Martinsen-Burrell, Jim Tripp, Steve Luse and Jono Ruf, all of Decorah. 

Martinsen-Burrell said the CRA has obtained 825 signatures on a petition supporting the ordinance, 525 of which are from Winneshiek County. 

A sovereign county? 

Thompson said in his interpretation of the bill of rights submitted by the CRA, “It would appear to proclaim Winneshiek County sovereign and independent. Might someone next seek to nullify the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or overturn the use of combustion engines?” said Thompson. 

 “The bill of rights ordinance is about much more than frac-sand mining, and it serves to have the federal and state constitutions nullified when inconvenient,” said Thompson. 

“The ordinance is fraught with language, notions and implications that are troubling.” 

Civil rights

Board Chair John Logsdon asked the group how it felt its civil rights were being violated in a county that has a potential for frac-sand mining. 

McCargar said the ordinance addresses the right to clean air and water and said citizens have the right to make decisions about what happens in the county. 

Thompson answered, “Claiming a right doesn’t make it a right,” next referencing a joke by Abraham Lincoln, where Lincoln asked, ‘How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg?’ 

“Calling the tail a leg doesn’t make it one,” said Thompson. 

Supervisor Dennis Karlsbroten next asked, “If this were to pass, what issue would be next? Would it be GMO (genetically modified) seeds? Banning antibiotics in livestock?” 

Concerned now

Martinsen-Burrell responded, “This ordinance says it is our citizenship that gets to decide. We as citizens have decided we are concerned about this now.” 

Tripp added, “We want you to protect us, and right now you’re not allowed to because corporations have been given commerce-clause rights. Our ordinance is unique because it strips corporations of personhood, which is really important to do, otherwise, they can show up and say their rights have been violated.” 

As in previous meetings, Luse said the CRA wants to set up a situation where if a lawsuit ensues, corporations “must argue their rights to profit and commerce are higher than our rights to clean water, clean air and clean soil. They’ll have to argue their dollar has more standing than our lives.” 

“Then you will be the defendant? No, the county will be,” said Thompson. 

Ruf next said the county “will be looking at a lawsuit no matter what. If you do it this way, they (the corporations) will have to go in and say ‘We have more right.’”

Logsdon again reminded those present the county is currently in the midst of an 18-month moratorium. 

“We’re just going to go about our due diligence. These two gentlemen (Karslbroten and Thompson) have stacks of info. They were elected to represent, and they are doing a wonderful job of that,” said Logsdon. 

Thompson added the Board “accepts the Alliance’s proposal to ban frac-sand mining as part of our fact-finding.”