I hadn't been at my first news desk long when I learned rule No. 1 in this job is "Don't make yourself part of the story" (rule No. 2 was "Don't publish the first installment of a series until you've actually got the last one written" in case you were wondering). Anyway, rule No. 1 can make for a fine balancing act — we want to engage the community on local topics, but that discussion should never become the crux of the story.
That's how we got television screens showing us angry faces in split screen…and that was before Zoom was even a thing.
In some cases, a journalist just needs to let things develop on their own and choose not to weigh in. That's something I've applied to local topics in my years here at the DCN — from the disposal of the Doon oil spill materials to the lawsuits surrounding the sale of the Okoboji Middle School. And with the Midwest Carbon Express being one of the major local issues right now, I've refrained from penning any opinion piece about the proposed pipeline Summit Carbon Solutions hopes will traverse the eastern side of our county in the next few years.
But frankly, I don't even know what to think about the darn thing.
I may have lived on an acreage for a few years, but I've never driven a tractor in my life, so I'm far from qualified to comment on the agricultural impact something like this will have on our local farmers. Any number of the folks with land in the pipeline's path are much more knowledgable than I.
And that's partly my point — the people of Dickinson County should be heard in this. And fortunately, the Iowa Utilities Board is actually asking for public comment on the pipeline. So, while I think it'd be a waste of space for me to give my opinion on the matter, I very much think it would be worthwhile for you, dear readers, to give yours to the state officials who are seeking them.
I don't think it's a secret (well, I know it's not a secret because it was said in an open meeting) but some of your locally elected government officials are frustrated by how little say they have when it comes to whether or not such a pipeline is approved. And plenty of folks spoke up on a variety of things during the informational meeting the pipeline company hosted last month.
But there was one tidbit of information folks at that meeting might not have caught — none of the comments and concerns voiced at last month's meeting will be taken into consideration when the state reviews the project's permit application.
Whether in support or opposition, it has to be submitted in writing.
Like I said, I imagine that fact slipped by a number of folks. Fortunately, that's part of why you have a local newspaper. Again, while I'm not the voice of experience when it comes to burying pipeline under someone's field drainage tile, I do have some experience in other areas — navigating government websites for example.
So let me share what I know.
Anyone wanting to put in their two cents with the Iowa Utilities Board can do so by mail or online (iub.iowa.gov/online-services/open-docket-comment-form). If you're more the traditional type and want to use a stamp and envelope, your comments need to go to:
Iowa Utilities Board
1375 E. Court Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50319
As mentioned at last month's meeting, you'll want to reference the pipeline's docket number so they know which project you're commenting on.
The Summit Carbon Solutions Petition for Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Permit is docket HLP-2021-0001.
You online users can just pick that from the list of dockets at the bottom of the page, and it seems you'll have to give some basic contact information, but that appears to be about it.
Really, that's all it takes to be heard by your government officials in this case.
I'll admit, this isn't the most thought-provoking column I've ever written, but I think it's an important one. Local newspapers are all about listening to the community, and in this case the paper is in a position to direct the community toward those in charge of at least some of our state's actions.
Now, it's likely some folks won't get the result they hope for. I doubt everyone in Dickinson County is of exactly the same mind when it comes to this project, and even if all 17,000 of us were miraculously of one accord on the subject, there's no way to know what feedback the other 30 Iowa counties within the project might send to the state.
We don't always get what we want. It's one of those lessons that bears repeating in life. But I'm not writing this to try and help brace the community for potential disappointment or even to suggest we should all be of the same mind when it comes to the Midwest Carbon Express. Rather, my goal is to help address the feeling of helplessness some in the community are feeling right here and now.
Our county and city governments don't have the authority to vote one way or the other on this one — well, at least not any way that will hold water. The powers that be in this case are asking to hear from us directly as they consider this project — this is "We the People" stuff here, folks.
So don't disappoint them.