Tuesday Roundup: Changes at Rural Affairs

Hassebrook steps down and Depew becomes new executive director of Center for Rural Affairs • Foundation program officer resigns after changes in environmental funding • Federal surface mining office loses 18,000 public comments • North Dakota makes grants to rural airports.

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Artist Brian Fink lays out a case for doing contemporary art in a rural community. Fink moved from New York to Mankato, Minnesota, where they renovated a 9,000 square foot former poor house into living and gallery/work space. “The rural aesthetic is based on horizon lines, on kind of the opposite of ‘the edge.’ It’s not like an urban environment that has a specific geography, with borders. Rural America has a specific geography with no borders,” Fink says.

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Center for Rural Affairs. Chuck Hassebrook, who has guided the Center for Rural Affairs for the past 17 years and worked for the Lyons, Nebraska, nonprofit for 36 years, is stepping down from the organization to focus on his run for Nebraska governor. A succession plan has been in the works since Hassebrook announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination in early June.

Brian Depew, currently the group’s assistant executive director, has been named executive director. He’ll officially start his new role September 1. Depew served as acting executive director of the center during Hassebrook’s short candidacy for the U.S. Senate in 2012.

Center for Rural Affairs Board President Jim Knopik made the announcement yesterday. “We cannot thank Chuck enough for his dedication and selflessness in serving the mission of the center,” his announcement said.

The center was founded nearly 40 years ago to work on federal policy affecting rural Americans. 

Heinz Environment Director Resigns. The director of the Heinz Endowment’s environmental grantmaking left the foundation a few months after Heinz made grants to a partnership that includes major drilling companies such as Chevron and Shell.

Caren Glofelty left the Endowment on August 8, saying that her resignation was related to board’s “moving in a different direction with regard to the Environment Program.”

Rick Cohen reports in Nonprofit Quarterly:

In March, the Heinz funded and joined a partnership with major drilling companies, including Chevron and Shell, to explore the generation of voluntary, rather than mandatory, industry standards for fracking. Activists lambasted Heinz for its support of the Center for Sustainable Shale Development, including the Sierra Club, who described the funding as “akin to slapping a Band-Aid on a gaping wound,” and No Frack Ohio, suggesting that the Center’s efforts “simply put…green lipstick on a pig.

Surface Mining Offices Loses Public Comments. Ever wonder what happens to all those public comments that federal agencies review as part of revising regulations?

The U.S. Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation says it lost 18,000 such comments (a total of “two or three boxes”). The comments were in response to Bush administration changes in surface mine regulations in 2008. The regulatory changes, which are currently in litigation, reduced the buffer zone that surface miners must leave around streams to protect them from runoff and other pollution.

Ken Ward Jr. at the Charleston Gazette’s Coal Tattoo blog says the surface mining agency made the announcement that it had lost the comments on Friday afternoon, typically the time when newsmakers make statements they would prefer the media paid no attention to.

North Dakota Invests in Rural Airports. The oil boom in North Dakota means more air traffic and more funding for the state’s small, rural airports. The Dickinson (N.D.) Press reports that “the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission doled out its highest amount of grant money ever this year, meaning small airports in the area are able to take on large improvement projects, like new hangars, revamped runways or new terminals.”

The improvements are necessary in part because of business traffic from oil companies. North Dakota allocated $60 million for “oil impact” on airports in the western part of the state. Other airports in North Dakota got $6 million. The state has a system for distributing oil tax revenues for infrastructure in counties affected by the oil boom.

 

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