Monday, December 31, 2012

The Very Model of Extractive Bad Economy

Star Tribune letter writer Philip Kerler of Eagan put it perfectly in Sunday's paper:

We, too, often lose sight of our key priorities

The Dec. 18 newspaper featured two articles that were revealing about the times in which we live. One story detailed how the city of Wabasha, Minn., denied a petition request for an environmental review for a frac-sand rail hub, despite the very real risks posed to both health and the environment by this type of mining (Wabasha boosts frac-sand rail hub). The other story dealt with the denial of a Minnetonka senior home's request to add an 11th resident -- which wouldn't have increased staff or physical space -- just because people didn't want to see an additional car or elderly person being walked around the block by a home health care aide (Minnetonka senior home not allowed to expand, council says).

Apparently, it is OK to push through a potentially dangerous mining operation that will affect thousands with both noise and pollution in order to increase a company's profits, but God forbid we should show compassion to an elderly resident because it might lower property values. I wonder how the good citizens of Minnetonka would like it if they had to put up with the noise and pollution of frac-sand mining instead of a minor disturbance from just one additional elderly patient?
Great point, Philip. I didn't notice the juxtaposition of those two stories.

I did mean to write about the Wabasha frac sand decision. It sounds as though the city council didn't have a lot of choice, from a legal standpoint: if they denied the rail hub's request, it would have guaranteed a lawsuit against the city.

But I can't think of a better example of extractive economy than the frac sand rail hub, and frac sand mining in general. The hub will bring 400 to 600 semi-trailers a day into historic, quaint Wabasha, which markets itself as a tourist destination. Over a 10-hour day, that's one semi every minute or 90 seconds. Many of those trucks will be coming over the bridge between Wabash and Nelson, Wis., from another scenic, small-town area, pounding the hell out of the bridge, I assume.

The trucks will be full of sand mined from the landscape, destroying the unusual geography of the area, including the bluffs above the Mississippi River, which are home to eagles and other raptors that soar on the thermals.

And for all of this, what does Wabasha get? No increase in their tax base, and just a tiny increase in employment -- an additional 18 jobs. These aren't local companies. They contribute almost nothing to the local economy, after extracting what they came for.

But because some robber-baron companies bought a piece of land with intent to mine it or to put a rail hub on it, and the small towns didn't have the foresight to create zoning laws that could prevent the unpredictably insane destruction of their towns and the land around them, there's nothing they can do about it.

I wanted to write a take off of Gilbert & Sullivan's "Modern Major General" song about this, but I don't have the heart. I only have one line: It is the very model of extractive bad economy.

1 comment:

troutbirder said...

Sad. Wabasha is one of my favorite towns and areas. The hard to spot Irish pub in particular....