Should a community/county have the right to determine its own future and protect the inherent rights of its citizens? The obvious answer to that question is a resounding “yes,” but it’s not quite that simple. Not by a long shot.

Winneshiek County is in the midst of trying to resolve the issue of frac-sand mining and its potentially detrimental effects on the environment and the people who live here. While the extraction of frac sand and the expansive operations that go along with it have spread throughout neighboring Wisconsin, it hasn’t gained a strong foothold in Iowa as yet and concerned local residents want to make sure it remains that way.

In response to the much anticipated desire of large corporations to find and extract the valuable sand located in Northeast Iowa, the county Board of Supervisors has approved an 18-month moratorium on frac-sand mining while it continues to study the matter in depth. It was a wise move.

The respected Wall Street Journal recently referred to frac sand as the “new gold,” and as we’ve witnessed with the continued construction of animal confinement operations in the state – including right here in Winneshiek County – the attempt to stop such “progress” from happening can be frustrating, if not downright impossible. Big money is a powerful motivator.

The Iowa Legislature has refused to enact any form of law that gives counties or communities the right to stop the spread of hog-confinement facilities (the primary culprit), but has instead made it a relatively simple matter to set up such confinements as long as they aren’t too big and can pass a matrix or point system that gives them the go-ahead under current state standards.

The state’s approach hasn’t worked to the satisfaction of most Iowans, who seem to be getting angrier with each passing year. As it is now, a person or company would have a difficult time obtaining the clearance to erect a 10,000-head hog-confinement structure, but they can easily get around that by building five, 2,000-head confinement buildings. It doesn’t take a genius to see what’s wrong with that picture.

While the supervisors, along with their counterparts in Allamakee County, continue to examine the issue, a local group has been formed – the Winneshiek County Protectors (WCP) – to “regulate” frac-sand mining rather than ban such activity, but that approach will fail to stop those who want to rape our land for huge profits, according to the Community Rights Alliance of Winneshiek County (CRA).

At a recent meeting of the supervisors, Steve Luse of the CRA presented a proposed ordinance which would establish a bill of rights and actually prohibit frac-sand extraction (and any other potentially harmful activities) in the county.

Commenting on a previously proposed ordinance from the WCP, Luse said: “We rebuke the idea that legalizing extraction will prevent it from happening.”

In other words, if frac-sand mining is permitted, but only if it follows certain regulations, the fight is over. The mining corporations will win the day, and the people of this county will suffer the consequences – as demonstrated by the prevalence of large-scale animal confinements. It may be well intentioned but it falls short of the goal of protecting our quality of life.

Luse stated the WCP ordinance falls short of the goal. Once mining is approved, the WCP is suggesting there will be enough obstacles created through a regulatory system to make such mining a waste of time and resources, but the CRA isn’t buying it.

Luse emphasized there is too much at stake for the fossil-based carbon fuel industry to be dissuaded by such ordinances.

“They have a wealth of corporate lawyers who know how to use their acquired commerce clause rights to overcome any such encumbrances,” he said.

Luse told the supervisors the CRA is working in collaboration with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), which is a principal advisor to many community groups. CELDF works to establish basic rights so that communities are empowered to protect the health, safety and welfare of their residents and the natural environment, and establish environmental and economic sustainability.

Luse said since its formation in 1995, CELDF has helped over 160 communities approve rights-based ordinances. “They were successful in helping the city of Pittsburgh stop fracking,” said Luse.

The prospect of frac-sand mining operations spreading throughout Winneshiek County and the entire region is abhorrent, and goes against many of the reasons we choose to live here. It may involve some litigation to get it done, but what have we got to lose? Oh, yeah, everything.

The way we (i.e. the state) are dealing with such matters isn’t working. Iowa needs to be protected. The supervisors should adopt the CRA ordinance.