Navigating the conflict of interest between businesses and citizens in South Dakota

At the heart of every new business project in the state, whether it’s a pipeline or a meatpacking plant, are people working to make it happen. Sometimes civic groups with concerns about the impact of business growth and development resist.

There is controversy in Sioux Falls over Wholestone Food’s proposal to build a new meat packing plant in the city. The $500 million facility is the target of an opposition group called Citizens for a Sustainable Sioux Falls. It received signatures on a voting measure urging residents to halt development.

The proposal has supporters.

Lorin Pankratz is the Treasurer of Sioux Falls Open for Business. It’s a group that supports local business interests, including the proposed plant.

“They played by the rules and now someone comes along and says, ‘Well, we don’t want this business here, so we wanted to try to stop it.’ From our point of view, they followed the rules, they did what they were supposed to do,” said Pankratz. “And from a broader perspective — that could be any business.”

Pankratz said the voting measure could send a message.

“People looking to do business here or want to expand an existing business look at this because what if this happens to them? So it has a suffocating effect on economic development if that’s what citizens’ groups or people want to do with money,” said Pankratz.

He said the opposition leaders against the new facility are working out of personal interest.

“Your idea isn’t a business perspective, it’s a personal perspective,” said Pankratz. “They immediately started saying, ‘Do you want another Smithfield? Smithfield smells.” Because maybe it’s too close to where they’re building their big house. That is the bottom line.”

Civic opposition groups often focus on environmental concerns or concerns that new businesses will not support a balanced, sustainable economy. Opposition to the proposed Sioux Falls facility focuses on wastewater treatment, odor, traffic and the impact on future development.

On the other side of the state, the Black Hills Clean Water Alliance is working from a small office in Rapid City to halt mining development in the area. This includes a proposed uranium development in Fall River County.

The project is Powertech’s Dewey-Burdock project which would be located northwest of Edgemont near the Wyoming state line.

Dewey-Burdock would use “in situ” mining, a fracking-like technique that involves pumping water underground to dissolve uranium deposits.

Lilias Jarding is Managing Director of Allianz. She said the mining had done more harm than good to the area.

“It’s polluted a number of streams in the Black Hills all the way down to the Missouri River, it’s left big holes, it’s left barren landscapes,” Jarding said. “Mining may have made a lot of money for the people who owned the Homestake, and for some miners, and for some miners, but for the population as a whole, mining is much less beneficial financially.”

When business leaders say opposition groups can stifle economic development, Jarding has an answer.

“We’re not anti-business,” Jarding said. “We support tourism, outdoor recreation and agriculture, which form the backbone of the state and our economy.”

Jarding said interactions with adversarial groups can be “opposing,” but she says civic groups have an advantage over corporations.

“Here we live. This is where people raise their children and grandchildren,” said Jarding. “People here have always had rights to the area. That makes it so that if these companies get their way and get mining projects and other destructive projects, we have a lot to lose – and the law is often on our side too.”

Some of the state’s most controversial projects involve utilities — pipelines and power plants that require state permits. These go before the elected Public Utilities Commission.

PUC chairman Chris Nelson said controversy was familiar territory for commissioners.

“Big electric transmission lines, big wind farms, oil pipelines, carbon dioxide pipelines, before they can be built, they have to get a permit from the PUC,” Nelson said. “And obviously such projects can divide people among the proposed area.”

Nelson said while the PUC works on the permits, its powers are limited.

“The PUC does not make any legislative or populist decisions,” Nelson said. “We don’t set policies. We don’t make laws. Rather, we are an administrative or quasi-judicial body.”

This means that allowing debates is subject to state law.

“As we work through these difficult permitting issues, we are working against what is already established in state law, which was established by the legislature to protect the people, environment and land of the people of South Dakota,” Nelson said.

Nelson is currently running for re-election as a Republican for the three-chairman Public Utilities Commission. His Democratic challenger is Jeff Barth.

On the same ballot, voters in Sioux Falls will also see the question about the city’s proposed meatpacking plant.


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