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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Not-in-my-backyard attitude a continuing problem

The Country Today, January 28, 2009
We hear it all the time in rural Wisconsin communities: "We don't want that wind farm, large dairy operation or anaerobic digester in our neighborhood."

The not-in-my-backyard mentality hasn't gone away and it isn't likely to anytime soon.

The NIMBY attitude really isn't so hard to understand. If someone lived in a peaceful rural neighborhood and that person had a choice, he or she probably would opt not to have that tranquility disrupted by a large business being built next door, whether it be an ethanol plant, a hog confinement operation or a widget factory.

It would be quite unusual to hear, "Please don't build that in my backyard, build it in my front yard!"

Within the past week, stories have crossed our desks about a large dairy project near Rosendale, a Manitowoc County wind farm and a community animal-manure digester project in Dane County.

In all three cases, millions of dollars would be invested - during the toughest economic times in about 60 years - to help stimulate the economy. Each of the projects would provide good rural jobs.

The $70 million Rosendale project - a 4,000-cow dairy that could eventually become an 8,000-cow facility - would create 70 permanent jobs and buy $32 million per year from local contractors and vendors.

About 500 people showed up at a hearing last week to consider whether to issue the farm its permits. Farmers from other parts of the state spoke in favor of the project, while some local residents opposed the idea of a large farm being built in their community.

The Manitowoc County Board of Adjustment last week rejected a developer's proposal to build a seven-turbine wind project west of Two Rivers. The decision was the latest setback in the project developer's four-year quest to erect a community-scale wind project in the town of Mishicot.

Renew Wisconsin Executive Director Michael Vickerman said the board's rejection of the wind farm "is certain to send a chill through every Wisconsin developer seeking to construct a community-scale wind farm here."

In Dane County, the latest talk is about a community-scale manure digester that would collect manure from several farms and turn it into electricity. Farmers heard the latest details about the project at a meeting in DeForest last week.

Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk is hoping federal officials will allocate funds for the "shovel-ready" project that she said could be replicated in agricultural communities across the country.

Madison-area hog producer Bob Uphoff said he was concerned that if the idea catches on and several of the digesters are proposed in Dane County, the projects would be met with a "not in my backyard" attitude by many residents.

So herein lies the dilemma. The economy desperately needs stimulation, and agricultural and rural projects stand ready to meet the challenge. But many of the projects face opposition.

This problem could become even more widespread in the months ahead if, as expected, President Obama and Congress designate money to accelerate renewable-energy projects. The projects that could provide immediate economic stimulation could become bogged down by a plethora of opposition and regulations.

There is no easy solution to this dilemma. It's certainly not a new problem.

But some people might have to reconsider their opposition to reasonable projects that help the country climb out of its economic doldrums. The old economic structure in this country is broken and must be replaced by a new paradigm. That new paradigm will likely include new ways to generate energy and economic wealth that we might not be used to or familiar with. But they're not necessarily bad just because they're different.

We can't always have our cake and eat it too, as the old saying goes. We can't ask for projects that stimulate the economy but then always expect them to be built somewhere else.

If we want to put people back to work and get this country's economy back in gear, some people might have to change their mind-sets.

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