A few of you may know that I first started studying Amish culture way back in the late 1980s when a toxic waste disposal company was considering constructing an incinerator on prime farmland outside of Nova, Ohio. The many Amish who lived in the area were generally opposed to the danger and disruption that such a plant could cause so they did something thought extraordinary at the time: they engaged in public activism. Bishops wrote letters to legislators and newspapers and attended incinerator opposition meetings. Eventually, bowing to public pressure, the company abandoned its plans. So “activist Amish” really isn’t something new, it really wasn’t anything new then. Even before the Amish would publicly protest (in their own quiet way) government rules governing schooling and farm labor. So what is happening in southeastern Minnesota right now really isn’t so extraordinary considering their history, although it is still an interesting story. The Amish in far southeast Minnesota are growing increasingly concerned about mining companies and their plans for extracting silica from the soil, plans that included a 300 acre rail-yard and plenty of truck traffic. Minnesota Public Radio picks up the rest here.
As a side note, I think the Amish man quoted in the Minnesota Public Radio segment is correct: some Amish, seeing dollar signs, may be attracted to the prospect of lucrative land leases to the mining companies if it is determined they have silica on their land. That’s not me making a judgment, that’s just the reality. You’d have the same occurrence in a group of non-Amish, some would be lured by the prospect of fast riches. So in addition to disruption the Amish there will deal with division within their own ranks.
The Amish will voice their opinions on issues like this, but if something becomes too disruptive often the end result is that they’ll just move. Back in the 1950s a group of Amish in Pike County, Ohio (relative newcomers at the time) packed up and moved to Canada rather than share the county roads and farmland with a nuclear weapons facility that the government suddenly started building. There was also the issue that the Amish are deeply-rooted pacifists at odds with the aims of such a facility and there was the little issue of the health concerns of having all that material in your backyard. The Amish raised a ruckus, but the economically depressed people of Pike County generally saw the plant as a panacea.
So the Amish hit the road. That group went on to start the thriving Amish community in Aylmer, Ontario. Over 50 years and many illinesses later:
More than 3,700 sick Piketon uranium-plant workers and their survivors have collected $324.7 million in compensation and $40.8 million for medical bills through a special federal program since 2001.
This resulting from shoddy disposal techniques and secretive dumping. The plant turned out to be a cancerous nightmare to residents in the area. In the case of Piketon, the Amish were right.
CAPTION: Aerial view of the troubled – and now shuttered – Piketon atomic facility.