How a Community Gives Voice to Preserve Rare and Scenic Beauty

“Capture the Essence,”  the idea Joanne Svendsen proposed to talk about at the Clinton Listening Session filled two tables and a dozen chairs.  This was the beginning of a community effort that in sixty days has now grown to more than 100 people who are coordinating strategies and working through the local township, CURE and neighboring communities and towns to preserve scenic property along the Minnesota River. Through coordinated efforts, this citizen-led group has successfully put a one year moratorium into place on a proposal to build a new 300 foot deep quarry to mine granite on 102 acres of  leased-land immediately south of Ortonville’s city limits.  The moratorium is a result of the implementation of an “interim ordinance” authorized at the local township level to allow more time for consideration of such a large scale and irreversible decision on the impacted landscape.   Fortunately, these local voices  were able to be empowered through state legislation which has since been weakened by a recent vote in the state legislature (House File 389) and awaits a decision by Governor Dayton of a possible veto. The township will be actively engaged on this quarry proposal which was recommended by the Planning and Zoning commission  and sent to the County commission for its review.

"Capture the Essence" with Joanna S.

In addition to losing beautiful pastoral land with granite stone outcrops that delight residents as well as new tourists,  many other concerns have been raised related to the proposed quarry.  Among them, the impact of blasting, rock crushing and heavy equipment noise and dust on rare and endangered plants, neighboring properties, as well as potential impacts on ground and surface water.

Landowners, ranchers, outdoor enthusiasts, artists, new and established bi-partisan residents, elected officials, environmentalists, farmers, and entrepreneurs came to the table January 19th to begin the process of building ways to preserve the scenic beauty of the land.  They immediately asked CURE to help support and organize their efforts as they prepared public comment, attended all county meetings, started a social media campaign, met weekly on their own and raised money to place large ads in the local papers.  In addition, they wrote dozens of letters to the editor for both local newspapers, asked CURE to prepare acceptable legal language to implement the interim ordinance, and have since retained a lawyer to represent the local township in its activities with the Big Stone County commission.  The efforts continue to communicate concerns to the public and the commissioners of Big Stone County, who will hold another hearing on the permit request at some undetermined date after April 10th.

In order to build public awareness and promote tourism, recent designs are being planned for a booth at Ortonville’s Outdoor and Leisure Show on March 17th & 18th, where community members will engage the public with information on the proposed quarries, distribute campaign buttons and showcase beautiful scenic imagery by a local photographer, Don Sherman.  Respectful communication continues with the County Commissioners who are currently meeting and weighing the pros and cons to the Strata Corporation’s request for a Conditional Use Permit.

Since this moratorium has been put into place, the North Dakota corporation, Strata, has hired a large and most capable law firm to help secure its desired permits.

As the community develops alternative ideas to brand the region’s identity and design economic growth in Ortonville and the surrounding area,  new models for tourism are being explored: eco tourism, artistic and cultural exchanges between nearby towns, and historic preservation are all under consideration as viable options.

 

 

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