No laughing matter
When I first heard about Lafarge's petition to place an industrial-scale aggregate, cement and asphalt plant at the gateway to the beautiful Yampa Valley I dismissed it, thinking it wouldn't even pass the laugh test.
Now I've learned, much to my dismay, that this ghastly proposal has worked its way up to the county commissioners for approval.
As someone who has spent the last 30 years working across the world as an environmental engineer, let me tell you what this operation will bring to Steamboat Springs.
Not only will you and the visitors to this community be treated to a massive industrial eyesore, but you will experience the dust, smell and hazards of chemical, mining and processing operations that are usually situated in industrialized zones, dozens of miles away from communities and places of high ecological value.
I also find the Steamboat Pilot's assertion -- approving the plant will be a great way to preserve open space -- ludicrous. (Editorial, April 20, 2003) Having trees and shrubs planted on an industrial "brownfield" 15 years hence isn't my idea of preservation.
Why Lafarge picked this site out of hundreds of square miles of possibilities is incomprehensible.
What is also incomprehensible is Lafarge's confrontational approach to the development of this plant. Lafarge is a member of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD, web site www.wbcsd.org), an organization made up of more than 160 of the largest companies in the world.
The leaders of the member companies, including Lafarge, have made a public commitment to development that meets the needs of both the environment and the communities in which they operate. To these ends, Lafarge should be bending over backwards to find a solution acceptable to all. Instead, I've found considerable frustration and disgust over the company's attitude as well as the county's approval process.
Part of the community's frustration apparently comes from a belief that a relatively small town like Steamboat Springs has little chance in successfully opposing a large multi-national corporation like Lafarge. On the contrary, the pragmatic reason why companies join the WBCSD is that they recognize that in today's "CNN World," ordinary people in communities like Steamboat Springs are becoming powerful stakeholders, capable of affecting the financial success of a multi-national like Lafarge.
Using the power of the internet, citizens can communicate corporate behaviors to tens of thousands of newspapers, public interest groups and other organizations around the world instantaneously.
Companies like Royal Dutch, Shell and Nike have learned painful lessons about how their perceived bad behaviors can affect their corporate earnings.
The operating principle in the WBCSD is that in the face of weak governments, it's the people who set the de facto standards for corporate performance.
In effect, they give companies their license to operate and can revoke that license at any time.
I urge you to use this power just as others have done.
My wife and I have a great deal of interest in Steamboat Springs, hoping to start a modest retirement in what seemed to us to be an ideal location. Needless to say, we are watching the Lafarge application process with great interest, clearly as a harbinger of things to come.
William A. Wallace