"Real Voices of Real People"
 

Not far from Wisconsin's cows, President George W. Bush unveiled his national energy plan. In neighboring Minnesota, in May of 2001, Bush called for more gas and oil exploration, rolling back some clean air standards, along with a few incentives for improving fuel efficiency. The President says we're in the midst of an energy crisis we haven't seen since the Arab oil embargo in the 'seventies. Critics of Bush's plan say we are experiencing a price crisis, not a supply crisis.

President Bush says electric transmission lines around the country need repair, upgrading, and expansion to avoid California-type blackouts.

But thousands of farmers in Wisconsin who are facing losing their farms and way of life to a 345,000 volt transmission line only heard part of Bush's talk. The part they heard was "the President wants eminent domain authority to take private property."


In the lush rolling hills of NorthWest Wisconsin a Mennonite farmer, Lynn Slabaugh, lets the cows out of the barn. We join him for a conversation.

The Slabaugh family raises corn and hay on more than a thousand acres. They milk about two hundred Holsteins between them. Lynn Slabaugh looks out across the field. Right next to the barn, a baseball toss away, the utilities, Allete and Wisconsin Public Service, want to build a giant 345 thousand volt electric transmission line. If approved by the Public Service Commission this would carry "so called" cheap Manitoba hydro and Dakota coal energy to Midwest markets.


Nick Vander Puy and Sandy Lyon visit with Lynn about the impact of Bush's plan on his family farm.  What follows is Lynn's story, as heard on WOJB 88.9FM www.wojb.org

The cows have been kept inside the barn this morning, because a few hours ago a hailstorm passed through. Lynn nudges the sleek black and white milkers out of the barn. The bull is with them.
Lynn Slabaugh has milked cows almost fifty years.


We follow him into the kitchen.
There's a needlepoint plaque hanging on the wall of the tidy kitchen.


"I have a plaque here that my sister in law sent my wife and I" Slabaugh says. "It says as follows. As I choose him I choose this land, this life, and always know that this is his wife. Midst labor never done, my love we three are wed. We and the land are one."


Just outside of Stone Lake there are a number of beautiful Mennonite farms. The proposed line would slice through this peaceful community of families.

The Mennonite's are an evangelical Christian group that in the fifteen hundreds broke away from the Lutheran reformation in Europe. They don't believe in infant baptism, or holding public office. The Mennonites are pacifist, they've migrated to many countries over the years to avoid military service. The Mennonites were persecuted terribly for resisting World War 1.
The Slabaugh's and their neighbors left northern Indiana in the early nineteen 'seventies and settled in Sawyer County.


"It was too thickly populated down there. We saw this was a place where people could go to enjoy the nature of the land, the wildlife, the American Natives, a place where you could be yourself," Lynn says, looking out the window.
They're related to the horse and buggy Amish. But the Mennonites here are more liberal, using gas engines and electric lights. Some still speak a dialect known as Pennsylvania Dutch.


Like the Amish they're known for well cared for and productive farms.
"Us German Swiss farmers that do live here. We prize our land. And we try to do a good job. We try to work the land. We try to take care of it. We feel that it's something God has put us in position to work the land and we try to be good stewards of it. It just don't look good to me to have a big transmission line going through when there's other alternatives like wind power to have this go through just for some political reason," Slabaugh says.


"Lynn," Nick asks," what do you think it'll do to your investment here?"

Slabaugh answers, "It sure won't raise the valuation of the land if anything. I don't know if the line can be sold anymore. Or if people want to come up as much anymore from the Twin Cities and Chicago anymore once this line goes through. We don't know. We'll only know what the damage of the storm is once it's over."

Sandy asks, "We were talking a little bit about whether that land would be salable. What about the kids? (and the health impact or fear of it) There's young kids in the territory. How is this going to affect the kids?"

Lynn responds, "It's gonna make a difference. My son is supposed to buy the homeplace within the next couple of years. If that line goes down, if they follow the gas line right of way, then that line will go directly across the home place-which we've owned the last thirty years-close to thirty. My son says he's gonna quit farming if that line goes over the top of the barn. It's gonna make a big impact on families farm families living in Sawyer County. It's not gonna...(he trails off in thought, distressed thought)"

"One thing if that's gonna happen, if that transmission follow the gas line, it'll totally change the whole outlook of the entire community."


Vander Puy leans forward and asks, "Now let's try to get this clear. The conservative Bush-Cheney administration, who believes in the free market and deregulation, want the federal government to seize Mennonite family farms to keep the lights on. They want Lynn Slabaugh to sacrifice the land that he loves dearly for the greater good of people in Milwaukee, Chicago, in Austin, Memphis, wherever it is they want electricity to light up carnivals, used car lots, whatever they want to do, what do we say to them?"


Lynn says, "They'll just have to tell us they have to come in and take our land away from us. That's all they can do."

Sandy asks Lynn, "Then what you're gonna do?"

"Nothing. I can't fight'em (being Mennonite). I'm not gonna sell'em. (being pacifist). They can just condemn us. That's all they can do.
I'm not gonna sell them any land, I'm not gonna give them any land. They can just steal it if that's what they feel about it." Slabaugh gets a knowing little smile on his face," I thought they hanged people for stealing things.
But I guess--- they're not gonna hang the government for stealing land."
 



The Bush/Cheney plan in its entirety can be read at www.publiccitizen.org
Look over the plan. Then view the web sites of "alternative energy" organizations.
Then contact your US Senator/Congressperson as fast as you can.