Being well informed is the best defenseJust because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you. – Pericles (430 BC.).
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Last Tuesday’s Cloquet City Council meeting saw the most contentious issue in recent city history put to bed in front of a handful of people. Instead of a packed council chamber, only Clarence and John Badger, John Sanders and three representatives of Cloquet’s newest landfill were there for the final vote that would determine whether or not Cloquet would allow any new landfills in its future, or the expansion of any existing landfills.
All those irate residents, who so vehemently opposed the Shamrock Environmental Industrial Landfill that was approved in February, were nowhere to be seen.
What is actually more important, a decision on policy that will impact the future of all landfills inside the city limits, or a decision about one particular landfill?
In this case, audience participation doesn’t reflect the importance of the vote. It simply reflects the fact that people care most about things that are happening in the immediate future in their immediate vicinity.
There’s nothing wrong with caring about your neighborhood. But it would behoove us all if more people actually paid attention to the bigger picture. After all, up until now, the city code has always allowed “garbage, offal or dead animals, reduction or dumping” as a conditional use within the city’s heavy-industry zoning districts. That should not have come as a surprise to anyone when Shamrock/DemCon applied for its permit last year.
As of last Tuesday, thanks in large part to the efforts of Cloquet Planning Commission landfill moratorium study subcommittee members John Sanders, Julie Kainu and Mark Roberts (who was on the Planning Commission but is now a city councilor) along with Community Development Director Holly Butcher, landfills are now clearly addressed in the city code.
Cloquet Zoning Ordinance now states that no new landfills will be allowed within city limits, including municipal garbage, industrial, construction and demolition debris, hazardous waste, incinerators, etc. No offal either, that’s been removed, along with dead animals and plain old dumping. Nor will either of the city’s two active industrial landfills – including Shamrock and the Sappi landfill – be allowed to expand.
Of course, other planning commission members and city councilors deserve credit for voting unanimously – based on the conclusions of the eight-month-long study – against allowing any more landfills.
Residents of the Antus Addition and others who packed the council meetings every time there was a vote on the Shamrock landfill also deserve kudos.
Had the neighbors not put up such a persistent fight against the Shamrock landfill, perhaps the city wouldn’t have conducted such an exhaustive study. Were councilors and the mayor still not smarting from the public backlash from the last battle, perhaps some would have voted for a more lenient option.
It would just be nice to see that involvement in local policy-making continue to grow, rather than slumping back into near nothingness.
As Ben Franklin once noted, being aware and educated is the best defense against poor governance: “A nation of well-informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the religion of ignorance that tyranny begins.”
Pericles may have said it even better nearly 2,500 years ago:
Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you. – Pericles (430 BC.).
See you in the Council Chambers Dec. 6?*
* Editor’s note: For those up to the challenge, here’s one important piece of advice: To really see the council at work, it’s best to also attend the work sessions, which start at 5:30 p.m. before nearly every scheduled 7 p.m. meeting (which take place the first and third Tuesday of the month).