Insight is a quirky phenomenon. If one will only linger long enough to permit it, much more can be learned in a debate than that which is readily accessible. I, like many in the community, have been wrestling with the realities of the current industrial wind proposal in Ellis County. As affected community members, some others and I have voiced concerns. As a result, we have been categorized by some as “Not In My Back Yard” (NIMBY) opponents of progress. As labels go, this one is uniformly negative, leveled at those not enlightened enough to see the big picture or too self centered to sacrifice for the greater good. Having invested a significant amount of personal time and resources in a graduate education and teaching at a state university, I have an affinity to think of myself as, at the very least, marginally “enlightened”. However, having been castigated for my position, I am forced to consider the possibility that my educational investment has gone the way of an Enron retirement account. Determined to rebuff the charge, I spent some time examining the accusation. The results of my scrutiny were, at first, a tad disturbing. As is the case in many debates, listening fully to the statements of others, often brings insight into your own.
While reflecting on the validity of the charge, I found no escape from the precision of the indictment. The hard truth is, I am much more interested in this debate than I would otherwise be, if only I had the fortune of being blissfully unaware of the predicament of those faced with the realities of this proposed industrial development. No doubt had I lived east of Hays, I would have found many other “important” things to occupy my time. After all, like most of us in the modern world, I’m a pretty busy guy. If it were not for the “misfortune” of living in the center of an area proposed to house eight to ten 400 foot towers within a half mile from my house (and at least three within half that distance), I may likely have continued with my day, perhaps pausing slightly to consider with genuine sympathy, the plight of those poor souls west of town. Though it pains me to say it now, (most personal growth is uncomfortable), if it were not for living in the proposed area, I would have missed several truths ranging from the mundane to the sublime.
One of the simple truths I have come to understand is that even if I lived east of Hays, I would not have escaped the potential adverse effects of this proposal. In the case of 140 structures each one at least 50 feet taller than the tallest building in Kansas, sweeping an area of the sky larger than a Boeing 747, a mere few miles won’t make much of a difference. For reasons far too numerous to enumerate here, the specifics of this proposal could potentially have a negative impact on every single person residing in Ellis county (perhaps excepting those few whose land they sit on). It’s not just those living underneath the giant turbines that will experience the ill effects of them.
A more meaningful truth I have come to realize is that people, who accuse someone of being a NIMBY obstructionist, do so thinking they are illuminating some great character flaw in the recipient. That being the case, if the accusation has merit, it certainly is an indictment of humanity as a whole. The thing is, people do and should care about what affects them, and those close to them. When this accusation is leveled, it is done so because of an agenda, in this case, a strong financial incentive and a wish to discredit those expressing concern. In reality however, it is a natural and healthy reaction for those who must live with the consequences of an action to proceed with concern.
I would propose that it is the actions of the “PITBY” (Put In Their Back Yard) variety that can be the most insidious and that must be scrutinized with tremendous caution. What would motivate a developer from the Denver Colorado area, representing the interests of a Spanish utility company, to place an industrial utility development covering almost 12,000 acres in the center of Ellis County on the doorstep of the most populated city in northwest Kansas?
Though the preceding truths I mentioned are significant, they pale in comparison to the most profound understanding I have come to through this journey. As I mentioned previously, I am without a doubt “guilty” of the NIMBY syndrome. Of greater consequence, I sincerely hope that as many people as possible will step forward to share my “guilt”. Citizens taking responsibility to become involved in what happens around them is one of the core principles on which this great American experiment was founded.
Responsible citizens are compelled to watch over their backyard. For instance, we try to keep poverty, not poor people, out of our back yards by developing social programs, giving to the United Way and our local churches. We invest in public education programs to warn others of the dangers of addiction and other heath hazards. We endeavor to rid our society of child sexual abuse and spend our time and resources both caring for those victimized by sexual abuse and punishing those perpetrating it.
Many citizens have concerns about how this particular industrial development will affect them, their family and their community. At the present time, these concerns are so strong that they are compelled to declare to the decision makers, “Not in our backyard!”
Well meaning people on both sides of any debate may differ as to the best course of action. In some situations there are no simple solutions. However, as luck would have it, this is not one of those situations. We need renewable energy to power the world. We also need to protect the health and well-being of those in our back yard. Fortunately, in this situation, we can have both. Build the turbines in areas of Kansas where it limits the impact on their neighbors, keeping them out of everyone’s back yard. There are literally hundreds of sites in western Kansas where if need be, thousands of turbines can be built, with corresponding setbacks measured in miles, not feet, from residences.
If standing up for what I believe is the right thing to do for myself, my family, my neighbors and my community, results in some labeling me a NIMBY obstructionist, I for one will proudly wear that label. Perhaps in some small way these efforts will encourage others to exercise their voice as well. Conceivably it may also result in a more productive conversation and produce a more collaborate effort to engage the issue at hand. In the meantime, I will continue engaging my convictions and maintaining involvement in the discourse, in the effort to keep something that threatens the physical, social and economic well-being out of my community, and out of my backyard.
By Tim Davis
25 April 2007
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