This column has been a long time coming. Nevertheless, it has come as a surprise. Timing demands that it be written now.
I am going to broach some topics I have found to carry a heavy emotional weight. I know some of this will be tough for many readers.
That said, it is harder for me to stay silent than it is to speak up––as I would never forgive myself if I failed to make the people of Granite Falls aware of an opportunity that is specific to this moment in time.
It is an opportunity both unique and great, and therefore is not without a requisite sacrifice. Sacrifice that will require the removal of the Granite Falls Dam.
Now before you dismiss everything else as a result of the prior sentence, I ask only that you hear me out.
In less than two weeks the Granite Falls City Council may take action to replace a pair of turbines at the Granite Falls Dam that will essentially lock the city into a commitment to maintaining the structure for the next 40 years. As it is, it is almost a foregone conclusion that the council will vote to purchase the turbines––and it will be said that it is because of the certainty of the economic benefit.
Yes, studies show that in all likelihood the purchase of the turbines will produce an economic benefit over time, but what will be downplayed is the potential need of additional dam repairs during this period––dam repairs that could very well come at the expense of local taxpayers and not the state.
As it so happens––and this information has only come to light since well into the removal of the Minnesota Falls Dam––minutes from meetings between the DNR and Granite Falls Energy explicitly stated well prior to the ethanol plant's water intake's original installation, that GFE was warned of the Minnesota Falls Dam's likely need of repair and the potential for removal.
We now know this warning wasn't heeded and came at significant expense to GFE––just as it could the City of Granite Falls.
But what we are talking about here is far more than just an economic issue.
You see, what's driving many individuals perspectives on these dams is an emotional connection to what the dams represent: a respect of the accomplishments and ideals of those who came before us. Or, in other words, our elders and their ideal of local self-reliance.
This emotional connection is admirable. It comes from a good place. I have it too. The problem only arises when we begin to think that the ideal, or the idol, is actually the physical structure itself.
Page 2 of 4 - Unfortunately, this has happened. And for proof, one look no further than the Minnesota Falls Dam.
Here, the level of emotion displayed toward an inanimate object was something to behold. People got so mad, so worried, they cried bloody murder. And, yet, if you jump to today, the intake work for the ethanol plant is in place at less than the originally projected cost and contractors of Fagen, Inc. have installed what I have been told is the "cadillac" of intakes to aid, amongst other things, the irrigation of Granite Run Golf Course.
As emotional as things got, you would have thought the dams removal would have caused both of the enterprises to close and all of Prentice St. to explode.
We now know in this instance as well, that this has hardly been the case. And so the question has to be asked: How did we rationally argue that backyard aesthetics and two business intakes were a justifiable reason to impede the life giving vitality of our state's namesake river?
Again, it seems only that it can be attributed to a misplaced emotional connection.
But something else occurred to me that is relative to this issue. And, for me, this is the grandest revelation of all. It is presented here in the question:
Did anyone ever consider what our neighbors thought about the Minnesota Falls Dam? Did anyone think to ask the opinion of the Upper Sioux Community?
You know it's interesting to consider the question right now. Right now, there is a declaration making the rounds throughout the state that declares "2013 as the Year of the Dakota." Minneapolis, St. Paul and Redwood Falls, I know, have signed on. Eventually, I expect that Granite Falls will too.
But I think we can do one better.
We all know there is enormous amounts of tension that remains between our two cultures. The rift that was created with the US-Dakota War 150 years ago is still palpable and we're still working through the experience as collective aggressors just as the Dakota have to deal with what it means to have been a collective victim.
In my ignorance, I have wondered why the hatred from such acts still persists 150 years after the fact. By studying and listening, I have come to realize that the severity of such an act has an impact that ripples crime on top of crime over decades, potentially centuries.
Now there are many who are ready to acknowledge what has happened and move on, but in order for that forgiveness of oneself and the other to really take hold, we need to act out of respect for this shared past. As things are now, this is not happening––because, in large part, the people of the Granite Falls area have been unable to put themselves in the others' shoes. Which is evidenced by the fact that nobody bothered to ask what our native neighbors think of the future of these river impediments.
Page 3 of 4 - Call me a dreamer, but the idea of building community together with the Upper Sioux, and the people of Clarkfield for that matter, is a beautiful idea. But I now recognize that when it comes to the Upper Sioux this is unlikely because you have to consider the fact that they are a culture who believes that they are born of the earth and that the purpose of their very existence is to act as its caretaker.
I mean, how can such a culture build community with another culture that is willing to adversely impact the river for its own selfish ends, and thus in a manner that is inherently disrespectful of this shared history?
It is easy to point to a singular individual interested in acquiring property at the site of one of these falls on the Minnesota River, and ask: What' makes them think it's their river?"
But to a town of 3,000, or so, the question can be asked too:
What makes you think it's your river?
The last point I want to make, and at this point I really shouldn't need to say anything else––but it is pertinent to note here that there are alternatives.
Those studying the hydro dam turbine replacement also looked into a cost/benefit comparison with wind energy that, not taking into account potential repair expenses, shows hydro power to be marginally more favorable in a cost/benefit analysis than wind in the long run.
But looked at in terms of the "grand scheme," and taking into account these aforementioned factors, such "value," I believe, quickly becomes non-existent.
Now the great irony in all of this is this truth combined with the fact that Granite Falls is home to Fagen Inc., which as "the largest green energy builder in the country" has a generous capacity to erect wind turbines.
The City of Granite Falls does purchase significant amounts of wind generated electricity, however this comes from wind towers many miles from here. With wind towers at Willmar, Morris, and Redwood Falls, does it make sense that we don't have local generation?
Me, personally, I would love to send some of my hard earned money in the direction of a collaborative effort between the city and Fagen, Inc. I would love to see us approach the idea of self-reliant energy creation from a place of creativity mitigated only by the respect we choose to show our neighbors.
We have rare and unique assets in the form of an active citizenry, a municipal utility, a progressive city council, and the largest green energy builder in the country. And if we were to establish that model, it could be financially favorable if like efforts contracted Fagen, which would also benefit the community as a whole.
Page 4 of 4 - All we need is a bit of bold initiative driven by the actions of a collective will.
I bought a house here over the summer. I bought a house because I have fallen in love with the people of this area, because I have fallen in love with the environment in which our communities are placed, and because I see potential for these communities to become something really great that I want to be a part of.
The opportunity that presents itself now is going to take some hard decisions and some major sacrifices. It requires that we act out of respect for an interest that is greater than ourselves.
But if we do that, I believe our communities have the opportunity to really begin creating community together––together in a manner that displays respect for our neighbors, our environment, our elders, our neighbors' elders and our shared desire for local self-reliance.
That is something that I want to be a part. And others, particularly today's youth, want to be a part of too. Nevertheless, the foundation will have to be laid first. And I think this starts by declaring our intention.
Forever it seems everyone keeps talking about change... change, change, change.
Well... Let's be it.