of decades past
Embarking on a new decade, it can be painful to look back at previous decades and see how issues that could have been resolved then continue to plague us today.
Take the 2010s, for example. We endured month upon month of argument over whether a wind farm in the northern part of the county was maintaining county roads sufficiently. We even hired an expensive consulting firm to supposedly oversee the process.
Word on the street — or, in this case, the gravel county roads of the region — was that the wind farm had left the roads much better than they were before the project started.
This was in spite of, not because of, work the consultants did, if you believe the people who drive those roads every day.
Flash forward to 2020. The consultants are history, wind farm maintenance of roads has ended, county crews now are responsible, and the roads are back to being a concern for at least some of those who drive them.
Rather than succumb to negativity and hire consultants to oversee the wind farm’s work, perhaps the county needed to hire consultants to oversee its own maintenance procedures — something citizens had strongly suggested in a series of public protest sessions that largely resulted in no changes.
But forget the 2010s. Let’s look at what happened in the 2000s.
Standing in the way of financial and environmental progress in the 2000s, the county’s misinformed handful of Not-In-My-Backyard activists succeeded in blocking not a wind farm but a modern landfill.
The consequences of all that negativity are staggering.
The multimillion-dollar Taj Mahal of a waste transfer station that the county will either put us in debt for or significantly raise our taxes to pay for would have been totally unnecessary if the NIMBYs had not had their way. The company proposing a landfill had promised to purchase and maintain the county transfer station.
It also would have provided free trash disposal for the entire county. Instead of imposing new and ever-increasing fees to dispose of our trash out of the county, the county would have saved almost the entire cost of trash disposal, which surely might have paid for better training and supervision of road maintenance.
As a community, we also would have eliminated literally tons of pollution generated by constantly having to haul everything we throw away or attempt to recycle to facilities an hour’s drive away. That cost is the greatest environmental threat posed by modern waste disposal. Our NIMBYs of the 2000s, rather than saving the environment, actually damaged it.
Bad as that may be, it’s piddling compared to the damage they did to the City of Marion’s budget. If we had had the courage in the 2000s to dismiss the ill-informed, knee-jerk opposition of NIMBYs, the city would have earned at least $300,000 — sometimes more than $1 million — each and every year since then from tipping fees.
A decade and a half later, that would have been more than enough to pay for much needed water main replacements that will force us into significant debt. And there would have been plenty left over to pay for upgrading decaying streets, no relief for which appears to be anywhere in sight.
Skip back another couple of decades to the 1980s when our genius city crews and officials tried to take down a more than century-old bur oak that still stands at Elm and Main Sts.
A tie-a-yellow-ribbon campaign capably prevented its destruction during an attempt to rescue the street from the ravages of time and weather back then.
A similar campaign does not appear to be necessary to save the tree from current work repairing further ravages of time and weather.
What’s important was the advice — apparently ignored — rendered during debate in the 1980s.
Problems with Elm St., according to a prominent attorney whose office at the time was across the street. weren’t caused by the tree but by broken curbing.
Three and a half decades later, that apparently unaddressed problem is what caused the Elm St. river bank to collapse to within inches of the street’s paving bricks.
It’s often not necessary to look for bold new ideas when trying to solve problems plaguing us from the past. Many times we can simply look back to rejected positive ideas that were shouted down by the negativity of handfuls of people opposed to progress or allowed to languish by officials without long-term vision.
If we had paid to improve our own road crews rather than succumbed to the negativity of distrusting what a wind farm might do to our roads, if we had ignored the negativity of NIMBYs and approved a landfill and its accompanying financial windfall, and if we had heeded constructive warnings about Elm St. rather than focusing solely on the negativity of whether to demolish a stalwark century-old tree, the 2020s might have become a present and future worth enjoying rather than dreading.
— ERIC MEYER