stories from the Public Lab community
Update 9/2016, the Code of Conduct is live at this link: https://publiclab.org/conduct
Last year we celebrated our 5th anniversary as a thriving, growing community of people from numerous backgrounds. Many of us met for the first time through Public Lab, have found collaborators and people to discuss a range of topics with, and some of us have had the opportunity to connect with one another in person through Public Lab and non-Public Lab events. Public Lab has always been a friendly community that attempts to welcome and include as many voices as are interested in joining the conversation. As we've grown in numbers though, it has become increasingly important to note the ways that we can maintain the important values that this group was born from.
During the 2015 Annual Barnraising, we tried out a new in-person structure where four members of the community-- Carla, Klie Kliebert, Nick Shapiro and myself (Shannon Dosemagen)-- acted as team facilitators. We were available to help facilitate conversations, make sure everyone felt welcome in the space and listen if someone wanted to sit and chat for a moment. Coming out of this gathering, we were happy that although facilitation was unnecessary during this event, knowing that the group and structure were available was well received by those in attendance. Over the last several months, we've expanded this initial event specific facilitation model into a Public Lab Code of Conduct, which will be adopted across the community. Interacting and making decisions with people who geographically span the globe and whose experiences are similarly as broad can be difficult to navigate - our goal with this document is to specify values that we as a community can reference, agree to and abide by.
We want everyone to not only have this important document, but to also be able to replicate the process. Through our many conversations, research and work sessions, we realized that writing a Code of Conduct was similar to other research that we do, so we're sharing below the journey along with the outcomes. We've included details, steps, and reference documents that describe our process (thus far), which we hope will help others who may be in need of a Code of Conduct for their group or organization. We continue to maintain that being open, learning together and offering space for questions and improvement is what makes our communities, research and work stronger.
Please take a look over the Code of Conduct (linked below), and add your comments or questions by July 15th. We'll be using it in the current form during the regional Val Verde Barnraising this weekend, but afterwards comments will be reviewed and incorporated and a final version released on July 20th.
Read on for more from @liz on our research and drafting process.
Here is a link to the document in GoogleDrive. To add comments, please just request access and we'll grant it right away. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1azLoPNGF7oo9WKmlj4n_bEcZWI2PMQpcf2Si8VXPZfs/edit
We framed the very top of the document with language from in-person democratic space holding that emphasizes the combination of respect and responsibility. The sentiment of "for democracy to work for everybody..." as practiced by the Highlander Center for grassroots organizing and movement building in Appalachia / the South is described in the book by Miles Horton "The Long Haul: an autobiography". Also see http://highlandercenter.org/. Carla added the clarifying points on dignity during interactions.
For the fundamentals, we looked to the Ada Initiative guide to writing Codes of Conduct (CoCs) https://adainitiative.org/2014/02/18/howto-design-a-code-of-conduct-for-your-community/, specifically these three points:
Over that, we added a heavy overlay of JoyConf consent and empathy culture: https://github.com/maitria/joyconf.com/blob/master/coc.md
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Photo documentation is among the most actionable types of community-collected data. County and state environmental permit enforcement agents in Wisconsin and other states have said that photographs of river fouling are useful evidence for documenting permit violations. The most actionable photographs for permit enforcement demonstrate the source of the runoff, duration of the event, and the visible extent of the fouling.
Sand mines and processing plants must comply with Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) Permit WI-0046515, and therefore are not authorized to directly discharge wastewater, including that from settling ponds or dust suppression spraying, into surface waters. Discharges from a mine must have less than 40 mg/L total suspended solids. Total suspended solids (TSS) are any solids in waterbody that can be caught on a filter. If there is a visible plume of muddy water in a stream, it could easily have 400 mg/L TSS, 10-times higher than allowed. As a proxy for TSS, turbidity can be measured. Turbidity is the cloudiness of water, measured by the amount of light scattered by suspended particles. The more suspended particles there are, the more light will be scattered and the water will appear cloudy, or ‘turbid.’
Time lapse photography of streams, where a weatherized camera is placed near a stream and takes photos at regular intervals, could automatically capture actionable evidence of turbid runoff events during the day. A time series showing the river before, during, and after the event can assist enforcement agents in estimating the total volume of the discharge. Coupled with an in-stream turbidity meter, the timing of runoff events could be easily identified and selected from the time lapse camera’s image series. A turbidity meter can also record evidence of runoff events occurring at night. Public Lab’s community is developing a low-cost turbidity meter for this purpose. Time lapse functionality is built in to a variety of “trail cams” and other emerging small cameras, such as the Mobius Point and Shoot.
Look for more information and an example demonstrating the impact of community photo documentation in the next issue of the Community Science Forum! Read more about the process online at: https://publiclab.org/n/12570
_Photo credit: Bill Hughes _
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Article by Mary Kenosian for Community Science Forum: Sand-Frac Issue
Mines are hard to map from the air without someone who has detailed local knowledge. From the ground, you can hardly see them behind the berms. The distinguishing features in the air are much, much different than the ground reality. From the road, the view gives no idea of the vast area of gouged out earth.
The first photo was captured in a flight I did back in June, 2012 with Kenny Schmitt, a local farmer who knows the land in Chippewa County thoroughly. This is the Howard mine that at the time was owned by EOG. We went over the photos together afterwards to identify them, and figure out the point of view. This photos is of the mine facing NW. What this photo doesn’t capture is the depth of this mine, it has at least a 75’ relief.
This photo is from August, 2013, of the Badger Mine in Blair, Trempealeau County WI. Paul Winey, another local resident who knows the area well, joined me on this flight. He had a list of mines with GPS coordinates on a spreadsheet. I relied on his identification, double-checking with Google Earth. We synchronized time, and he recorded which minutes were over which mine. Using his chronology, I matched the photo time in the EXIF data with the mine. The Badger Mine is a huge amoeba shape with many pseudopods, each leveling a hill in excess of 1000’ elevation. I checked that on Google terrain from google maps.
_Image from June, 2012 with Kenny Schmitt. _
Image captured on August, 2013, of the Badger Mine in Blair.
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On a hot August day in Southwest Wisconsin, four industrial silica sand mining permits sat on the table in front of the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board, and in front of that, over 200 concerned citizens packed the hearing room, the majority speaking passionately in opposition to the proposal.
Pattison Sand Company wanted to mine within the Riverway and was making the case that the Board had no option but to approve the permits under a loophole in Riverway law that considers all non-metallic mining the same as a small gravel pit for local use, no matter what the size. Pattison Sand asserted that the permits must be approved as, according to the studies they had done, the mine would be invisible from the river during leaf-on conditions, and therefore the Board had no basis to deny the permits.
However, an easel strategically placed by Crawford Stewardship Project in plain view of the Riverway Board held an image that told a very different story. As the mining company claimed to be invisible, the image silently refuted every word. From two miles across the Mississippi River valley, one could see the dust from a blast at Pattison’s Clayton Iowa mine billowing up in a plume and obscuring the horizon. After much debate and a recommendation from the Executive Director that they had no choice but to approve, the board stood their ground and denied the permits, earning applause and cheers from the crowd.
_Photo Credit: Kathy Kachel, August, 2013 _
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One method groups are considering for monitoring sand mining and reclamation is called EPA Method 9, Visible Determination of the Opacity of Emissions from Stationary Sources. This allows individuals to use visual assessment to monitor and report facilities’ emissions that obscure air’s transparency or line of sight. This lack of transparency is called opacity. Monitoring consists of taking 24 visual observations over six minutes and averaging the results. If the visual opacity is higher than the regulated limit for a certain percentage of that time, the site would be in violation. EPA Method 9 violations warrant an enforcement response.
According to Wisconsin’s Administrative Code NR 415.076, “emissions from activities not associated with processing equipment, including but not limited to roads, other areas used by haul trucks, storage piles and drilling, shall be controlled so that visible emissions do not exceed 5% opacity at the source.” If you see dust in the air, visible emissions are likely above 10% opacity. To maintain certification for Method 9 reporting, people must pass the field certification test every 6 months. EPA Method 22 is the same as Method 9 except it can be conducted by uncertified observers, although familiarity with Method 9 training materials is suggested. Method 9 carries more weight for reporting and prompting enforcement.
Image credit: Mary Kenosian, 11/05/2011 at Superior Silica Sands, town of Cooks Valley, Chippewa County.
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What initially sparked your involvement with the frac sand issue? When the frac sand mines and processing plants came to our city and county, I became cognizant of the injustices occurring to people living near the locations. When government officials did not listen, I spoke up. The result was the formation of Concerned Chippewa Citizens.
What is your biggest concern around the issue? I have many. It’s a convoluted industry with many components, so it’s difficult for people to unwind them all. The health, safety and welfare issues have not been resolved. There has been very little effort by the industry to directly research these issues. Silica is carcinogenic. The jury is still out on the long term impacts of the respirable crystalline silica particles on life near the mines. The potential could be huge. Little is known about the long term impact on water quality and quantity around these facilities that will assure that citizens will be healthy and safe over the long term.
Over the years there have been a number of monitoring efforts that community members have worked on. What have been some of the biggest accomplishments and some of the biggest challenges?
Dylos monitors set up by Hank Boschen and others who purchased their own equipment was an ingenious idea. The collection of that data and visual monitoring located at several sites around the county was critical to show that there were particulates in the air. This preliminary work alerted the sand companies to the fact that we were watching, and while speciation [identification of the type of dust] was not a part of the study, particulates were registering and viewers could see them fluctuate based upon wind changes and activity at the mine and processing sites. When Jeff Falk from Fountain City analyzed the data, it became obvious there was concern. EOG Resources then hired an industrial scientist, but one study of short duration is not enough. Before we know people will be safe, we must understand the cumulative impacts of these operations, yet people and animals are exposed to these operations daily.
Initially there was a lot of interest in dust/silica and now it seems a lot of attention is given to water issues, what do you think sparked this?
There is still a great deal of attention in terms of air quality measures although the mining operations try to assure us that there is no danger. It’s very difficult to know the long term impact of air quality on a human being or animal.
There has been an increasing concern on the water issue because, finally, one of the DNR folks came out with the concern that there was a case for leaching. Now we are learning more about the sulfides, low pH, and oxidation, all of this helps to get the heavy metals into the water. It’s an issue of quality over the long haul and the impact, safety.
What advocacy strategies have you found to be effective in your effort? Having started eight years ago, I think we have tried every strategy that we could possibly come up with. It is critical that people stick together, work together, strategize and support each other, attend meetings, learn more, and speak with informed minds. Governmental officials must learn that citizens have done their homework and that fossil fuel industries are notorious for duping the innocent. It is powerful for citizens who have studied the issues to attend a meeting and challenge information spread by the companies.
You’ve been speaking with a number of other groups who also deal with the struggles of extractive industries. In growing your network, what have you learned?
People in many parts of the country have mutual concerns. We in the Midwest have a link to is happening here and in other areas where hydraulic fracturing is happening. Pipeline issues, tar sands extraction...all are tied to the extreme energy extraction issues. Noise, trucking, rail, tanker bombs, export concerns affect us all. It’s part of this whole big system. We have to quickly make a paradigm shift in the way we regard energy if we are to survive.
What is one thing you wished you knew when you started this fight?
I wished I knew more about was how long it would take. Eight years of my life have transpired, and almost every day I’ve worked on this. It’s a long time to work on an issue to have it not resolved. However, the time spent has opened up new learning, teaching and organizing opportunities. The concern has spread and it is great to see so many others involved all over the world on energy and climate issues that started out for me with the intrusion of a silica plant in the City Limits.
What is something that has gotten easier and something you continue struggle with? Making connections with people who have common concerns has made it easier, but there is a need for educating and networking with more who can make a great difference. It is critical that voices are heard and that decision makers learn to say “NO” to the intrusion we are facing and the conditions we are creating for future generations. Empowering people to do that is a struggle!
Any words of advice for people who are starting to face extractive industries in their communities?
Get involved; sustain the effort and don’t give up! We have a long way to go, but people can change and move to other forms of sustainable energy use. Hope for a better life for many is critical, and our young people must become involved and use their creative, critical thinking and problem solving skills to create new ways of living before we make this planet uninhabitable.
Is there anything you want to share out with people who will read this publication? I think it’s important that we persevere, show great determination, use our voices and make it known to our government officials that we want to be participating in our local, state and national government. The power of big industry and corporations must be reined in. All citizens have to be willing to accept and/or work toward making change to improve the living conditions for all people now and into the future so we can collectively live on this planet.
Photo credit: Julie Strupp/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism
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