From left, Lynn Carlson, Bryce Lange, and Marcia Ward are running to represent much of rural Winona County on the County Board. They will be on the ballot in the primary election on August 14.
by CHRIS ROGERS
Voters in rural townships and small cities will have choices when they go to the polls next month. In the Winona County Board’s only primary race, three candidates are competing to represent district five on the County Board, a district that stretches from Fremont to Homer and from Utica to Dresbach. Wilson Township resident Lynn Carlson and Lewiston City Council member Bryce Lange are running against longtime incumbent Marcia Ward, of rural Nodine. In a League of Women Voters (LWV) forum last week, the three candidates staked out differing positions on a range of local issues.
Ward voted against the county’s frac sand ban in 2016 and stood by that decision during the forum, saying that the county should have regulated sand mining, not banned it. Referring to the way the county’s ordinance bans mining sand for fracking but allows sand mining for other purposes, Ward likened the ban to telling a farmer, “Oh, by the way, Mr. dairy farmer, you cannot sell your milk for cheese or ice cream. You can only sell your milk for liquid consumption.” Lange supports the ban. “[Frac sand mining] not only devalues property around it, but it desolates the property it occurs on,” he stated. “We have actual beauty value in this county, and we attract a lot of tourism. I don’t think we should sacrifice that.” Carlson has not taken an absolute stance for or against sand mining, but she has been an outspoken critic of Minnesota Sands’ proposed mining operations. “The way we mine is really important,” she stated. She called Minnesota Sands’ proposal “completely disorganized.”
“The nitrate problem is huge,” Carlson stated when asked about the issue of groundwater pollution. She named reducing nitrates in groundwater as of her top three priorities. “It affects everyone,” she stated, pointing to the pollutant’s negative health effects in adults as well as infants. In apparent reference to the county’s cap on the size of livestock feedlots, Carlson added, “I’m really surprised that the animal unit capacity that our county has set has not been reviewed since the ‘90s, and yet the nitrate problem continues and is unabated. It’s increasing. It’s not decreasing.”
In 2015, Ward voted to study whether the feedlot animal unit cap should be changed. At the time, supporters of the study argued that the cap should be raised because dairy farms needed to get bigger to stay competitive or support new generations of family farmers. The proposed study was voted down by County Board members from the city of Winona, who cited concerns that increasing feedlot sizes would worsen groundwater pollution.
Lange agreed with Carlson, “Nitrates are a huge issue.” He noted that reducing excessive nitrate levels in its well water has cost the city of Lewiston a significant amount of money. “[The county] should be looking out for the welfare of townships and cities,” he added.
“We need to be cognizant,” Ward said of the nitrate issue. “We ask in all our agricultural applications that [farmers] do testing — soil testing, well testing.” She pointed out that state agencies regulate nitrate pollution. “Winona County is a very large member in all kinds of water-quality groups,” she added.
Asked whether the county should build a new jail to replace its current jail — which has been sanctioned by state authorities for not meeting state jail codes — or continue exporting prisoners to neighboring counties’ jails, Ward and Lange both said the county needs to study the issue more before an informed decision can be made. While a majority of the current County Board has stated that a new jail is likely needed, Ward has resisted the idea, and she and commissioner Steve Jacob have pushed the county to seriously consider outsourcing inmates as a long-term solution.
At the forum, Ward said the current export arrangement is a good deal for the county financially. In a seeming acknowledgement that some facility might need to be built, she added, “Depending on what we have to build, I don’t know that we can call it a jail … Because it’s not all going to be hard cell, lock-up-and-throw-away-the-key-type of structures. There is going to need to be room for all kinds of clients that come into that facility.”
“I’m skeptical to believe that exporting prisoners will be cheaper than building a new facility,” Lange stated. “I understand that biting the bullet now and building a new jail now will cost more now, but I’m wondering about the future. Are we going to keep exporting prisoners and eventually [exceed] the cost of building a new jail? Or should we just build a new jail now and save some money later?” Ultimately, a cost-benefit analysis needs to be done to determine what is best for the county, he stated.
Carlson said that after touring the current jail, it seemed that the biggest problem is that the 9-1-1 dispatch center is located in the middle of the jail. Dispatchers are asked to do double duty, helping to keep an eye on inmates, unlocking doors for guards, and handling 9-1-1 calls. “That does not belong in our jail,” Carlson said, adding that she would support relocating the dispatch center. As for building a new jail, Carlson pointed out how much excess capacity neighboring jails have. “The idea of building another facility for millions of dollars for incarcerated citizens just does not make sense at this point,” she stated.
In the only question that directly addressed how the county can support agriculture, LWV moderators asked candidates whether they support organic agriculture. Carlson said she does, adding, “The massive factory farms are kind of running the show and turning food production into a corporate sort of entity. We take better care, we’re better stewards of the earth if we have smaller scale production,” Carlson said.
Lange talked about the potential for farmers to get higher prices from raising organic crops and animals. He noted that there is a similar opportunity for farmers who produce value-added products, such as farm-creameries. “How do we keep some of those profits at farms rather than simply giving it to a producer that refines their products?” he asked. There are loans and grant programs for value-added agriculture enterprises, Lange continued. “I think the county could do something to incentive people,” he said.
“I support all farming,” Ward stated. “Anyone who wants to be a farmer is great, and I would support them no matter what kind of farming they want to do,” she continued. “Everyone I talk to wants to be sustainable. I don’t know anyone who does not want that, it just depends what your definition is,” Ward added.
Another question focused on economic development. Lange works as an economic development consultant for various small cities in Southeast Minnesota, including Rushford Village, and getting the county to be more active in helping businesses get started or grow is a central part of his campaign. Winona County needs to help its small cities attract businesses and grow their tax base, Lange stated. “I think there’s a lot of opportunity in greater Winona County,” he said. “It seems like a lot of our focus is in the city of Winona.”
Ward said the county’s planning and zoning department can support economic development by helping property owners find ways to achieve their goals when they come in to apply for permits to build a new facility or expand an existing one. “We can be more customer-friendly,” she stated. “If someone comes to the counter and has an idea, we can be more productive in trying to get that off the ground than in trying to put up road blocks.”
Carlson said that when it comes to economic development, the focus should be on small businesses, small farmers, and affordable housing. “Addressing the bulk of our population would definitely help with economic development,” she stated.
In her closing remarks, Carlson said, “I have always wanted to help other people. It’s also important that we sustain the earth. If we don’t honor the earth, how do we keep civilization healthy and happy?”
Lange criticized Ward in his closing. “If we fail to the win this election, nothing changes for rural Winona County,” he stated. “We will continue to only support monied interests rather than represent the interests of the common good … In voting in favor of the incumbent you are voting for controversial corporations who want nothing but to turn a profit, even if it is at the expense of your health, safety, and welfare.”
For her part, Ward said one of the things she is most proud of accomplishing was helping a nine-year-old boy get in touch with the right officials so he could start an annual parade in Nodine.
The primary election is on August 14. For information on polling places and how to register to vote, visit www.sos.state.mn.us.