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Furthermore …


Lawmakers side with business over environment

Steuben County residents opposed to a proposed 4,800-animal hog farm learned this month that the Indiana Department of Environmental Management has given the go-ahead to the operation, which will be located less than three miles from one of the county’s 101 natural lakes. While Indiana’s lax environmental oversight offered little hope the permit would be denied, legislation moving through the General Assembly will make it even easier to operate a concentrated animal feeding operation.

Senate Bill 186, approved by 40-8 vote, would make it harder for local governments, state regulators and citizens to oppose giant CAFO operations such as the Steuben County site. The rights of ordinary citizens and property owners would become secondary to farm owners’ rights.

Keith Werner, the third-generation farmer who has proposed the Angola project, might well have met the state’s standards for establishing the pig farm. But what about the rights of longtime Steuben County residents concerned about the threat it might present to nearby lakes and to the air quality? What about the rights of business owners who depend on visitors to Steuben County lakes?

In the push to accommodate agricultural operations, the General Assembly needs to balance the interests of all Hoosiers in setting policy. Environmental problems are easier and less costly to avoid than they are to fix.

Valparaiso school gamble goes belly up

The best elected officials understand that strong schools are a community asset. Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas hoped to take it a step further, pitching a program that would bring Chinese students to Valparaiso High School for a year to improve their chances for admission to an American university. The outcry from residents, however, prompted the mayor and his partners to withdraw their plan.

The Valparaiso Community School Board late last month approved an agreement with Lumenus USA Institute for Global Citizenship, a for-profit company co-founded by the mayor, to bring up to 30 Chinese students to join the Valparaiso class of 2015. Superintendent Michael Berta said the program was an opportunity to provide what the international students were seeking and “the opportunities are limitless for us.”

The students, who would have paid $40,000 to $50,000 for a year’s tuition, would have been eligible to participate in all school activities and compete for positions in everything but sports.

Many Valparaiso residents, however, were outraged by the proposal.

“Pompous, self-interested commerce masquerading as progressive, global virtue,” wrote resident David Rutter in a column published in the Post-Tribune.

At a school board meeting last week, Valparaiso resident Christopher Pupillo asked why the public wasn’t asked for input on the proposal and why the board members had not asked more detailed questions about it, as the Portage Community Schools Board had when Lumenus approached it with the plan.

Pupillo said the “A”-rated Valparaiso school already has cultural diversity but also has 600 students per guidance counselor. He said overburdened teachers would have more work assisting the exchange students.

More than 250 people attended the school board meeting, most of them to protest the Lumenus program.

The website for the Lumenus Institute, interestingly, promotes Valparaiso’s quality of life and includes some odd links for “community resources” – the Blue Chip and Four Winds casinos.