By Christopher Hopkins, The Saint Consulting Group
At a recent public hearing in Ortonville, MN, Strata Corporation found itself facing 18 out of 20 speakers voicing their opposition to a proposed quarry. Strata could have discovered that with proper preparation this level of discourse could have been avoided.
Now, Strata in short order must provide the commissioners and residents with written answers to the questions raised before the Board takes up the issue again next month. There are steps companies like Strata could take to reduce the negative impact of the public inquiry and ease the tensions of the local community.
Some companies prefer to just have one large public meeting for the residents to air their grievances. But an alternative would be to put in an effort to get out in front of the situation. A company’s motivation for waiting until the hearing could be that they do not have the time to meet individually with neighbors and residents of the community, or that the company may not want to take on the expense of conducting individual outreach. The result of waiting is likely to cost much more, and the risks of this strategy are many.
The risks of waiting are that it gives the opposition time to control the dialogue with dubious and exaggerated claims of the negative impacts your quarry will have on the community. Once you let others define your project and residents start to believe the rhetoric, it becomes incredibly difficult to educate and change the minds of the residents and turn them into supporters.
Much of this could be avoided by working in the community early on, meeting with residents one on one or in small groups, laying out the details of your project and highlighting the benefits. When you have other operating quarries in an area, you can bring neighbors of those quarries to meet with local residents and testify to your being a good corporate neighbor and to the benefits your quarry bring their community.
With early action and good homework you may be able to avoid a crowd that is 90 percent against you.
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Christopher Hopklns is senior vice president for aggregates and mining for The Saint Consulting Group. Email firstname.lastname@example.org