Local churches sponsored a meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 2 to discuss the proposed high-capacity well and the role of faith in decision-making.
The proposed high-capacity well would be built on the Utica Township property of Dr. Darrell Long of Lima, Ohio. The well is currently in the permitting process with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Long’s initial application would have allowed water withdrawal at the rate of 500,000 gallons per day. Conditions proposed by the WDNR to the pending permit would lower that rate to 250,000 gallons per day.
Long’s well application states the purpose of the well is to provide an emergency water supply to the area and water for emergency water bottling. Long has also stated that the purpose of the well is to make a profit. He has advertised for bulk water sales on the Internet, though those ads appear to have been removed.
Beginning with questions raised by the proliferation of signs against the proposed well found throughout the area, Pastor Kent Johnson of Luther Memorial and Our Savior’s Lutheran Church arranged a meeting Greg and Sylvia Attelson of the group ‘Save Copper Creek.’ The meeting also included fellow clergy Pastor Anna Sorenson of the Mount Sterling and Utica Lutheran Churches, Pastor Lorie Betz of the United Methodist Church, Pastor Adam Becker of the Congregational Church and Father Zacharie Beya of St. Mary Parish and St. Philip Parish.
The clergy, after learning of the Save Copper Creek’s concerns about the proposed high-capacity well, felt the conversation should be taken to the spiritual community. The clergy sought a further discussion of the proposed well and the issue of how faith informs individual decisions that can have an impact on the greater community.
Not all the clergy were able to attend the meeting of approximately 30 community members.
The meeting began with an invocation prayer by Father Beya calling for open hearts, minds and understanding. Pastor Johnson followed by acknowledging the issue of water rights is complex, legally, morally and ethically.
Referencing the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America document “Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope and Justice,” Johnson stated that all creation is entitled to be heard.
“Water shows up in the bible over 600 times,” Johnson said. “Water is one of our most basic needs…He [Long] has shown concern for disaster victims, but it needs to be larger than that.”
Many of those attending came with concerns already in place.
“My son calls this disaster capitalism,” said Alice Boehm a local resident. “I wish Dr. Long would have come to speak to us when concerns were first raised. I think it is wrong to profit off of helping people.”
If the well goes in “it’s an open access-commons tragedy,” according to Robert Horwich, Director of Community Conservation based in Gays Mills.
Joan Christopherson-Schmidt, a retired schoolteacher who owns land in the area, spoke of her interest in the issue. Christopherson-Schmidt was involved in the successful legal challenge that halted Nestlé/Perrier from being able to extract and bottle water from Big Springs near her Wisconsin Dells family farm and wetlands.
Christopherson-Schmidt credited agricultural zoning, local organizing and a commitment to a legal challenge with protecting local waters in her case.
“Who owns the water, owns the people,” Christopherson-Schmidt said.
Mt. Sterling village employee John Anderson did assure those present that if the well went in, the village would become aware if it affected the village’s water supply.
“We do weekly readings of the water levels,” Anderson said while answering questions about the process for doing so.
“There is a deeper issue here,” Johnson said speaking of the pastoral groups first collective effort in facilitating the discussion. “This can bring opportunity for our local churches to enter into this together.”
Johnson sees this as a chance for the community to address finding its way though questions of how we care for the earth and those living upon it.
More meeting are likely needed and the pastoral group would welcome facilitating a public meeting with Long, according to Johnson.