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Granite Falls Advocate Tribune - Granite Falls, MN
  • Opinion: A convergence of visions in Granite Falls

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  • I approached Avis Freitag at an event at the K.K. Berge building shortly after she released her response to my initial column about the removal of the Granite Falls Dam and asked if she wanted to go upstairs and wrestle.
    True to form, she took a deep breath, puffed up her chest and confidently exclaimed, "I'd win!" ... And all I could do was acknowledge that "yeah, she would." After all, nobody identifies, beautifies and electrifies Granite Falls quite like the spirit of Ms. Freitag.
    But the letter to the editor got me thinking about a story I heard about Ms. Freitag's interaction with our former County Administrator. The story goes that the two were in conversation when the former administrator made a comment about the Granite Falls area not being a destination point for tourists––to which Ms. Freitag, as I understand, took much exception.
    I don't blame her. Our former administrator did a lot of good things for the county but it seems he never provided himself an opportunity to recognize the potential of this area to serve in a tourism capacity––even as the local area benefitted from a multi-million dollar casino expansion, the construction of the Fagen Fighter WWII Museum and a growing interest in river recreation that has taken hold at least region-wide.
    And so I appreciate what he did to bring county operations more up to date, but am glad that he has taken his away lack of belief in this tourism possibility, as it certainly won't help it arrive any faster.
    If I talked to big for my britches in the preceding column, I apologize. But my job affords me the opportunity to observe and report on a wide variety of business, civic and social circles, and it is my duty to do so in an objective fashion. Such responsibility has given me the opportunity to get a bird's eye view of the community, and of the direction it is heading.
    From my perspective the community is headed up a profoundly positive path, but the fullest expression of this possibility will be stunted if we continue to support the ongoing existence of the Granite Falls Dam.
    An invitation
    We've all taken notice of the vitality that has taken hold of the community in recent years. It has led to a reinvigoration of the downtown through a community focus on recreation, health and wellness services, as well as the establishment of a number of art stores. These are unique offerings to the area that cannot be purchased at Walmart. And there is very much the desire with urbanites to experience the authenticity of such offerings amongst a relatively relaxed and tight-knit Minnesota River Valley community.
    There are a number of young adults who see this potential growing and they're interested in being a part of it, too. They want to make the city a home base for canoe and kayak trips, for a theater company and other quality-of-life related endeavors. In my mind, the removal of the dam would certainly express an invitation to this culture––a culture that I believe locals are really coming to recognize and appreciate.
    Page 2 of 5 - But I get it. People want it to make sense financially and many see the dam as aesthetically pleasing. It's just that I believe a natural falls will be far superior to the man-made structure and will provide the opportunity to be more financially beneficial in the long run, too.
    So lets talk economics.
    The studies say in all likelihood the $1.2 million in turbine replacement for the dam would eventually produce a profit––something like $700,000 in 40 years in one of the better case scenarios. This, however, does not include the potential for dam repairs.
    Built in 1911, it was 73 years later that dam underwent a major concrete restoration. The cost at the time was $1.2 million in 1984 dollars. So if the dam undergoes no repairs during the entirety of the forty year lifespan of the turbines, it means the dam will have gone 70 years without rehabilitation––suggesting that a significant rehab, while not necessarily immediately needed, ought to be required at a point sometime soon after the expected 40 year life-span of these proposed turbines ends.
    And then there's this graph, which to me speaks far louder that the rehab risks further down the line.
    What you see here is a graph depicting the amount of power consumed by Granite Falls as well as from where it is generated. You'll notice that the Granite Falls Dam production capacities grew slightly over the years but has largely remained static. Meanwhile, the amount of power generated and sold to the community by outside entities has grown in leaps and bounds to meet the decades of growing demand.
    This is not the result of poor management by any means. The Granite Falls City Council, with recommendations from the utilities commission, has done a terrific job purchasing the lowest cost power. But it seems that the community as of late has yet to turn inward to see what we can do on our own––which, to me, is too bad and certainly inconsistent with Granite Falls shared history of innovators.
    A history of innovation
    With as many historians that there are in these parts, I doubt I'm going to present anything new, but let's just recap here a moment:
    In Edmund T. Sykes and Olaus Lende we have individuals who established the first electric light generating plant in our region.
    In Granite Falls we have the second established municipal utility in the state and by far––when it began to supply Stony Run with power in 1914––the first rural electric cooperative, leading some to dub the city as "the father of rural electric cooperatives."
    And this should be of no surprise, considering that this is the home of Andrew Volstead, the chief legislative force behind the establishment of rural cooperative entities in general.
    Page 3 of 5 - Today the spirit of these visionaries exist in the likes of today's Ron Fagen, Scott Dubbeldee and Patrick Moore––men who have led the charge in the establishment of the largest green energy builder in the country in Fagen Inc., one of the nation's top 100 cooperatives in Farmer's Co-op Elevator, and what a number of outsiders have said is the only rural environment organization of such size and influence in all of the U.S. in CURE.
    I have been afforded the opportunity to observe all three of these visionaries. And I have been able to take note of shared traits that express how all of these men are driven by deep faith through which they are able to sell a positive vision that is in turn supported by a strong and tight-knit network that has adopted the respective vision as laid forth.
    Each of these men invariably have their foibles. But when at their best, each recognizes and acknowledges that the success of these visions is dependent on their network of support's willingness to back it.
    Seeking the positive
    Now up until recently, I think there has existed a general sentiment that made it hard for organizations such as these to recognize that they are not working against each other and, quite the opposite, actually have the ability to work together toward a reality where the objectives of each of these organizations may converge. After all, who here isn't working toward a healthier and more productive environment for the lot of us to share?
    And so I don't see why we don't invite the tourism economy by removing the dam. And I don't see why we don't invite visionaries such as these to a place at the table where they can explore alternative methods of generating self-reliant energy with the leaders of local city and potentially tribal councils, as well as regional experts.
    I mean just think, we have a Minnesota House Rep. in Andrew Falk who is an expert on the state's transmission system, a Senator in Lyle Koenen who has never lost anything (at least when it comes to elections), and a former CEO of Granite Falls Energy in Tracey Olson who is now running Montevideo based power line contractor Karian/Peterson––which serves to highlight just a few of the friendly individuals who might have the expertise to aid in the realization of such an endeavor.
    Further, the development of the CAPX2020 transmission lines and a nearby substation shows yet another physical asset that will be in place to allow for some heavy duty opportunity that is just waiting for a little unified creativity. This, I believe, is not a coincidence but a convergence––a convergence indicating both an opportunity and responsibility to bring about these good things to come.
    Page 4 of 5 - A shared vision
    Last but not least, is the Dakota community component.
    In my mind, there is not the potential to share a vision with the Native Americans until we start acting in a manner that pays homage to how they see the world. This view point acknowledges that earth is a conscious entity very much worthy of our care and gratitude, given that we and the rest of this planet's life are dependent on it for health and vitality.
    It's a bit ironic to me that at no time in our global history is this perspective of the world more needed, and yet we as a community are so willing to turn a blind eye and argue the justification for this structure of stone and metal.
    The dam, quite simply, is not good for the environment or the community. Not anymore. Wind power is not like water power, as a river is much more like a highway than the sky. A dam placed in the road would stop automobile traffic in the same way it stops aquatic traffic. Meanwhile, a turbine in the sky or a solar panel on a roof top offers a lot more opportunities to make adjustments for potentially affected people or wildlife. I don't even see room for comparison here.
    So it comes down to the questions:
    Do we want to make these visions one, and share it?
    And do we have the capacity as a community to take stock of all the incredible minds, abilities and physical resources in the Upper Minnesota River Valley to lay the groundwork for something that we can all get behind––something that catalyzes our strongest asset: a community of people who support and trust one another?
    Removing dams
    Sure, the Granite Falls City Council could make this about just replacing turbine equipment. And later the council could just sign a resolution that declares 2013 the year of the Dakota, could just replace the pedestrian bridge and could just take part in the coming DNR Water and Trails division celebration.
    Or, the council could make it about something more. It could make it about repairing old wounds, setting forth a new direction and showing others what the Upper Minnesota River Valley truly has to offer. I believe, as history has shown us, that other communities of the Upper Minnesota River Valley would follow suit.
    And so to realize this possibility certainly won't come without sacrifice. It will require that we remove the dams that we have established not only within the Minnesota River, but within our own selves, our individual communities and our community cooperatives that keep us from realizing the most positive possible expressions of ourselves.
    These dams will be different for each of us, and as the author of these statements it is only appropriate that I take them to heart and begin making concessions to remove the dams in my own life.
    Page 5 of 5 - At that, I'll be the first to take a leap of faith––believing that this community has the ability to see past one's failings and view a person without judgment while focusing on the positives one has to offer as we all stumble through this often wacky world.
    So perhaps they'll have a spot at Project Turnabout for me. It's about time I made a reservation.
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