Tuesday, October 20, 2009

County Government 101

October 21st, 2009
County Government 101
There isn’t enough going on with Hyperion to talk about this week, so I thought you might enjoy my education with the county government and dealing with bureaucracy at the local level. Now bear in mind that these are the folks who make decisions on the budget, set mill levees for your portion of the money to support the townships. Collect money for fines, school boards and all that other good stuff. Now just try to talk to them all at one time during a meeting. Unless you make arrangements ahead of time to get on the “Agenda” it ain’t gonna happen. It was during the 2006 legislative session in Pierre when many of the county commissioners [Sioux Falls and Rapid City] that they couldn’t get any business done because there were too many interruptions. The legislature in their infinite wisdom came up with this cockamamie rule. “The commission sessions have a short time of public input before the meeting is called to order where in the public can speak. It could be 5 minutes, 10 minutes or whatever. When the chairman calls the meeting to order, that’s it. Unless you are on the agenda you might as well go home because you are no longer allowed to speak. Kinda like when we were kids in school and had to keep our mouths shut unless we were called upon. Well now, it is SHUT UP! Now get this, In Union County this isn’t a period of dialogue with the commissioners, this is where you get to speak. They sit like stone men and cross their arms, look at you and smile. If you ask a question that would require a response, the answer that you will get is “this is not a question and answer time, this is your time to speak. We don’t respond during this period. We will listen to your input, take down your information and will respond if necessary. (Nobody writes anything down or responds, but this is your time)
If you have a bitch, which I often do, you must get on the agenda at least 24 hours in advance and you will get 15 minutes to actually get responses, usually just from the chairman, but they can speak. (Usually it’s only the chairman) And when you are done they say thank you very much for your input sir/ma’am and that is the last that you will hear anything about the subject. Let me give you a perfect example of the commissioners in action. In July of 2008 I got on the agenda and spoke just before the States Attorney’s timeslot at the meeting so he was present. I gave my spiel about the need for a decency ordinance in Union County in preparation for influx of migrant workers to the area. I gave them an outline with all the things I thought would be necessary to get this done. The states attorney said this would take at least 2 years because of all the problems Sioux City had with theirs and he wanted to make sure he got it right the first time and would stand up to legal challenges. Ok I guess if that is how it works, that’s how it works. A year goes by and nothing, so I bring the original letter back to the commissioners (I’m on the agenda by the way) and make my pitch again. This time it is “thank you very much.” End of session. Two weeks later I wasn’t on the agenda but I signed up for public input. (You have to sign in) I stood in front of the commissioners and told them that since the air permit was passed these workers could come in anytime and begin construction and that we desperately needed to have this ordinance on the books, and passed a copy to each commissioner present. This time I get a nod from the chairman and that’s it. Now this is going on a year and a half and nothing has yet to be brought to the commissioners in like a draft or anything like that. Nothing, nada, zip, zero. I was told you have to be patient with things like this because they are really busy. This is just one example of how your government works. It isn’t just this item, I’ve been going to practically every meeting for almost 3 years and it is like this at every meeting. I was on the agenda for the 1st of October, when all this brew-ha-ha started on the county signs. I made a formal complaint against the Union County Planning Director. I spoke for over 5 minutes and when I got done and asked for a response, here is what commissioner Karpen had to say. “It is out of our jurisdiction. You have to deal with this through the board of adjustment; it is out of our hands. (Kinda like Pontius Pilot washing his hands at the crucifixion of Jesus.)
I went to the board of adjustment on the 1st when they were meeting. When they adjourned as P&Z and went into the board of adjustment, before they finished their motion to adjourn I said “excuse me I have a letter to present to the chairman.” I was told I was not on the agenda and could not speak. I usually try to keep my cool at these meetings because I expect that, but I could not even present the letter. I bet my blood pressure went up 50 points. My face got so read I thought I was going to start bleeding, and Dennis sat there and grinned. So now 30 days later I am on the agenda and we get to discuss this. This folks is what your elected officials are doing at the county level. Can you imagine what it is like at the state and national level? This is the end of lesson 101 folks. Thank you for your kind attention. Next week we will talk again about Hyperion, but in the meantime, keep those cards and letters coming.
Your honored Servant

Your Money or Your Life

October 14th, 2009
Your Money or Your Life!

There is a program out there called “Cap and Trade” that I don’t fully understand but could become a very decisive issue with the Hyperion refinery. Under the cap and trade system, Congress sets an industry wide standard that companies must adhere to. They must reduce their carbon dioxide levels of pollution each year until they come down to the standard considered by congress as a “safe” level.
From what I can see, this has both good and bad points. The good point is that it forces companies to reduce their carbon emissions. The bad point is that if they don’t take steps to reduce those emissions, they have to buy credits from companies that have a surplus of credits which allows them to keep operating. These credits are traded at market value and will create a hell of a mess.

Now there is a good side and a bad side. The good side is that it forces companies to spend money they could be using elsewhere to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide they emit every year. The bad side is that those companies who don’t take those steps have to buy energy credits in order to keep operating, and that costs money. I like to refer to this as a carbon “tax”, not a credit. Let’s call it what it is.
Emissions from coal plants are a problem mainly on the east and northeast coast of the United States. That is not a big problem in this area; however we could find ourselves in a heck of a mess if they start taxing farmers for cap and trade. I cannot imagine counting how many cows and pigs a farmer has and telling him he has to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions by these animals or he will have to pay a tax to exceed the cap. About the only way he could reduce his emissions is to reduce the size of his herds. I cannot imagine farmers falling under a cap and trade because of the amount of fertilizer they use growing their crops. This could happen.
Now comes the big decision one has to make. Are you for or against this program? This is where you have to make a decision. If I support it, it will force companies like Hyperion to put policies into effect that will almost assuredly raise the price of their finished product, which will be passed on to the consumer (us). If they continue to underperform they will just continue to buy credits. Is it cheaper for them to buy credits or make changes? The big question I have is who is going to monitor to see that they become compliant? If they make the changes, then carbon dioxide emissions will go down, but will we see the effects of those changes? I doubt it because it is just released into the atmosphere and heads north. The two main effects we would see if they don’t make the changes are in the amount of sulfur dioxide they emit which causes acid rain. Sulfur dioxide also causes health problems especially people with respiratory or other health related issues. It is kind of like pay me a little bit now, or a whole lot later.
Mercury is a very serious contaminant. It can enter our bodies directly through mercury-contaminated air or drinking water. In these exposure routes, the main initial source of the mercury is air emissions from power generation, waste disposal, and other industrial activities. Again, Hyperion could be the root of this problem. The big problem is controlling how much they can pollute, because our current air quality is so pristine that it doesn’t even show on the scales. So what do we do? Do we take active measures to stop this or ignore it and hope it goes away?
I would have to say I support cap and trade. It will force companies like Hyperion to think twice about whether or not to build or whether or not they can even afford to build a refinery. I’m going to have to pay more for my utilities, but at least I will still have my health.
On the other hand, how is this going to affect my neighbors? How much is it going to increase operating expenses and is it going to force some of them out of business. This is going to be a tough decision to make folks. I wish there was another option to this mess.
The sad thing about this whole deal is that the government decides what is good and what is bad. Can we afford more bureaucracy, especially inefficient and ineffective controls? I have a bad feeling about government intervention in areas like this. Private industry is a powerful lobby, and it behooves us to keep a watchful eye on this program. Anything that Nancy Pelosi is for to me is a bad deal from the get go.
Isn’t it sad that we have to deal with something like Hyperion and the by-products that result from an operation of that sort? And people think this is called economic development. Bull!

Monday, October 5, 2009

How did we let this happen?

October 7th, 2009
How did we let this happen?
I just watched an episode on 60 minutes that would just curl your hair. It was about dealing with a deadly byproduct of a power plant. It is called COAL ASH! This is the residue from a power plant that burns coal to produce electricity. That wasn’t the really scary part because it is a known fact that all power plants do this. The scary part is that Hyperion will be doing this. It is written in the new Union County Zoning ordinance that the planned development that Hyperion pushed on us, (those of us opposed to the refinery) that it cannot store toxic waste in or on the facility. Guess what? Coal Ash is not on the list of the EPA as being toxic waste. Now here’s the kicker. In my estimation, there is nothing to prevent Hyperion from importing coal ash from other power plants and storing it here.
For a long time now, people have been accusing me of being as bad as “Chicken Little.” The sky is falling, the sky is falling. Well folks, I’m here to tell you that this is a distinct possibility for the HEC. People say that I’m always a pessimist, always negative, the cup is always half empty not half full. Can you imagine millions of tons of coal ash piling up on 3200 acres of the richest farmland in South Dakota? I cannot fathom such a disaster, but it could happen.
There is nothing to prevent Hyperion from making contracts with power plants around the United States to take coal ash off their hands. Al Huddleston tried to create a dump in Dallas, Texas and did not succeed. What is to prevent him from doing it here? Not a damn thing. The state of South Dakota is welcoming Huddleston with open arms and hope he has a big pocketbook so they can make lots of money. After all, this is economic development.
Coal Ash is loaded with mercury, arsenic and lead. Proponents of spreading the coal ash around say that it is nothing but dirt, what is everyone worried about. Ask the people in Tennessee after the pond holding the coal ash burst and flooded the downstream towns. It literally buried houses, lakes and the countryside with many feet of ash. Leslie Stahl said on TV that we should be raising red flags all over this country because of the ash. The power company is exporting the ash to a small town in Alabama and paying the citizens there about $7or 8 million dollars to store it there. This is absolutely ludicrous. When Ms. Stahl interviewed a spokesman for Dominion Power Company about raising this red flag, he merely responded that neither the federal government nor the EPA has declared the ash toxic and that they are fully compliant with the federal regulations. Oh My God! He also stated that there is no limit to the size of the stockpiles. When she asked him about oversight or inspections to make sure no violations occur he responded that the states are responsible for the inspections. Now that scares me. Can you imagine DENR inspecting this? Do they ever inspect other power plants in the state? You never see anything about violations in the paper, and this has to be happening. Are we prepared to accept this? Do we have any choice? You bet your bippie we do. If ever there was a need to get out and protest something, this is it. We must circulate petitions to get this ordinance changed to prevent Hyperion from doing this, because I’m here to tell you, if they can get away with it, they will. I wouldn’t trust Hyperion for one second.
I can’t remember how many times I have written this, but it has been more than 3 or 4 times that I’ve said Hyperion has no intention of building a refinery in Union County. I hate to say it, but it makes perfect sense to me for Hyperion to try to pull this off.
To me coal ash would be more harmful to us than air pollution. With coal ash we would get a triple whammy. The coal ash would leach into the ground water. It would dust us with ash that could carry radioactive materials, and it will leach the surrounding farmlands that raise not only grain crops but livestock as well. It is a no win situation. Call me a pessimist if you will, but trust me this is not a good deal. If Elk Point and the state of South Dakota think this is economic development, they are sorely mistaken. Can you imagine what this area will be like in 20 years when your children are reaching adulthood? What will they do? What will living conditions be like? What will this area be like?
How did we let this happen?

Button, Button, who's got the button

September 30th, 2009
Button, Button, who’s got the Button?
Will somebody please tell me what is going on with Hyperion? Last Wednesday, Mr. Robert Graham filed the appeal for “Save Union County”, COOP, and the Sierra Club. They stated in their appeal that Hyperion will fail to meet the clean air act for the refinery and therefore should deny the application. That is plain enough isn’t it? Pretty much a straight forward deal.
Also on Wednesday, Mr. Eric Williams released a statement for Hyperion. It said that they “trumpet” the decision by DENR to add using the thermal oxidizers even though this is not being done by any other oil company in the United States. (WAIT A MINUTE) hasn’t Hyperion been saying all along that a refinery has not been built in the United States since 1976 and that they will build a “state of the art” refinery using all the latest technology. And now they have the audacity to come out and say they “Trumpet” the idea of using oxidizers? They weren’t going to use them at all until DENR told them they had to. What the heck is going on here? In the hearing process they complained that it wasn’t economically feasible for them to have to spend $30-50 million dollars for oxidizers and/or scrubbers for the plant and now they “Trumpet” the idea. I think it is a little more like sucking wind.
Then on Thursday, they file their own appeal to Hughes County (which is in Pierre by the way) but they wouldn’t be specific on what the appeal was about. They wouldn’t say what portions of the application if any they will appeal, but they filed the appeal anyway. I think is about the fact that DENR said if they didn’t put the oxidizers in they wouldn’t get the permit, but Hyperion says they will accept DENR’s decision. Bullpucky! They are more confused than we are. Their spokesman says one thing then the next day they say something else. Who are we to believe anymore? If anything, I think Hyperion just added cause to our appeal because they don’t want to put the oxidizers in. when you are spending $10-15 Billion for a refinery, what the heck is another $50 million?
Do you remember when this thing first started and I said that Hyperion didn’t have a clue about how to build a refinery. I think they are proving it now that they don’t have a flippin clue what is going on and furthermore don’t know they have a problem. If you were trying to get investors in a project wouldn’t you be a bit more positive about what you’re doing?
Preston Phillips said in the news release that “We know some will say it’s going overboard because it’s handling such a small amount of vapor, but we agree with the state that it’s the right thing to do to protect the region’s air quality,” Hyperion executive Preston Phillips said in
Wednesday’s statement. Does that make one want to lean over and throw up or what? I have to give them credit though. Everyone always says that Texans are full of B.S., and Hyperion is making a damn good case of proving it true.
I get more convinced every day that this project will never happen. How could it when they, of all people, don’t know from one day to the next what they will do. That’s enough about them, let’s talk about another project that is near and dear to my heart.
Ed Cable received a letter from Dennis Henze a couple of weeks ago and was told that “Save Union County” signs and “Vote No Hyperion” signs are in violation of county ordinances and must be removed. I have an issue with the “Save Union County” signs. Do they say anything political? Does anyone remember them being political? Were they at one time considered political? Dennis Henze seems to think so. Or at least Ross Jordan does. He make an offhand remark at one of the commissioners meetings and I guess Dennis took it to heart and started beating his breast like a “Gorilla” and started pontificating that the election is over take ‘em down. I don’t think you can bluff Ed Cable, and I don’t think the signs are coming down anytime soon. Course that is just my opinion, I could be wrong. Somebody doesn’t have enough to do.
Is anyone having a problem writing a letter to Region 8 of the EPA. I will certainly be glad to help you if you want help. Hyperion might be making their water permit application soon, and we need to be ready for them. We are still writing about the air permit though, so don’t get mixed up. The appeal will be working its way through the maze but keep those cards and letters coming because they will certainly help make decisions easier in the long run.

Ain't this a Doozie

Sept 23rd, 2009
Ain’t this a Doozie?
I don’t often use the Leader Courier as a source for a news item because they are rather biased about what they print, but last week was a doozie! Let me set the scene here. L.G. Everist was applying for a conditional use permit with the city of North Sioux City to expand their gravel dump in North Sioux. Everist vice president Todd Schuver said that they have outgrown their Sioux City Plant and wanted to expand to North Sioux. They wanted a conditional use permit to unload rock and gravel by train and truck on the land they lease from BNSF railroad. After much discussion, the city council voted 9-0 to deny a permit for L.G. Everist to expand their rock facility. That wouldn’t be so bad, except for the people that voiced their opinions at the meeting and what it was that was said. When I read this, I almost dropped my teeth. Let me give you a few quotes. These are really good.
Schuver said that they want to be part of the community and think they will provide a very viable and low-cost product to the community. (Where have you heard that before?)
People talked about the hazards of dust, noise and smell from all the truck traffic and that many of them lived only 100 feet from the site. (Déjà vu all over again)
Many people were concerned about whether or not Hwy 105 could stand the wear and tear of so much truck traffic, (Huh?) and whether or not businesses would be attracted to Flynn Business Park with such disruption next to it. (My God!)
Schuver said that any concrete plant would have to obtain an air permit and be subject to certain air quality levels. (You’re kidding me right?)
One of the members in the audience asked “If Sioux City doesn’t want you, why would we?” (Right On.)
Mayor Don Fuxa and the city council sent a letter to the P&Z stating their objections due to the large number of letters they received objecting to the expansion. Their letters stated objections because of increased air pollution, excessive noise, and obnoxious odors. (Oh, this is good)
I see that the people of Save Union County taught these people well. They and L.G. Everist used our book. Didn’t we use these same objections both with the P&Z and the county commissioners? Obviously we weren’t as successful as they were, but it sure looks like a case of NIMBY if you ask me. They voted overwhelmingly for Hyperion but when it crops up in their own back yard it ain’t gonna happen folks.
What do you think is the first industry that would locate to the HEC if Hyperion were to actually start to build a refinery? It would be a concrete and gravel dump only 100 times larger. NSC was going to be a few acres, and the HEC a few hundred. The funny thing here is that it would be in a planned development and we don’t have squat to say about it. Hyperion wrote in their application to the county that they would have total control for any and all building inside the boundary of the HEC. And people voted for this! (I seem to be using a lot of these today don’t I ? !!!!!) and all this time I thought our voices were falling on deaf ears.( WOW did we get a surprise or what)
It just blows my mind that people can be so two faced. We were accused of being whiners and malcontents because we were standing in the way of economic progress. I’ve got their economic progress for you right here. Are these people so naive as to think that when Hyperion comes in there won’t be truck traffic and rail traffic up the wazoo! There will be trains and trucks unloading all day every day. They won’t be able to keep up. You can bet that L.G. Everist will appeal this decision. The rock and gravel dump have been there a long time and they want to expand “Just a little bit.” (Oh but the Hyperion issue is different. Don’t look Ethel)
Do you realize just how big this will be? Just look at the size of the portable concrete facilities that are being put up on the Interstate for rebuilding a dinky 26 miles of road. This new facility would look like Mt. Everist (little play on words there folks) 3000 acres of concrete and asphalt. Concrete buildings, Concrete this and Concrete that. And when it rains, North Sioux City had better hold onto its hat, because it is going to flood like no tomorrow. Just to give you an idea of 14000 acre feet of water, take 3000 acres and fill it 36 feet high. Now that my friend is a whole hell of a lot of water. They say that sh*t flows downhill, well when this behemoth comes in we are going to put it to the test. (I like that word behemoth don’t you?) Remember back in July when we got 18 inches of rain during the month. Imagine what this will do to the Brule and the Big Sioux?
You know there is an old saying that what goes around, comes around. Someday NSC is going to want our help about an issue that is vital to their survival. My answer to that is “UP YOUR NOSE.” Not in my backyard, I could care less. Sorry!