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GALLAGHER: Produce booms, corn shrinks near Spink, S.D.

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SPINK, S.D. | Adrian Hanson celebrates his 88th birthday in a kitchen brimming with spaghetti sauce, tomato juice and fresh watermelon.

The retired farmer boasts, "I feel like I'm 50."

While the 2012 corn crop is the smallest he's seen in 60 years on this farm four miles south of Spink, pumpkins balloon to 90 pounds. Cantaloupe averages 9 pounds. Watermelons tip the scale at 40 pounds.

Adrian and wife Carolyn (green thumb and expert canner of the house) invite me out on Tuesday to witness their bountiful harvest in a year marked by severe drought. The farm bore 55-bushel corn, poorest crop Adrian can recall.

We stand under blue skies and bright sun, listening as a John Deere combine churns through soybeans south of the farm. Adrian has grown weary of news pages filled with shootings, stabbings and store thefts. He believes readers deserve a break, lighter fare for hump-day.

I oblige. From acorn squash to zucchini, the Hansons have the best fresh veggies I've seen in a summer clouded by dust, cracked earth and lackluster yields.

"We used no fertilizer. I watered, but not more than twice a week," Adrian says. "I can't explain it."

Carolyn and Adrian rise at 5:30 a.m. By 6 a.m., Carolyn stews tomatoes for spaghetti sauce. She pours the concoction into glass jars, then boils each jar for 40 minutes.

"It's a lengthy process," she says.

Conversation turns from her time-consuming canning to the proposed Hyperion Energy Center, a $10 billion oil refinery and power plant slated for their neighborhood.

Talk about a long process. The project that began with landowner meetings five years ago makes the front page again this week as the South Dakota Supreme Court hears an appeal on Hyperion's air-quality permit. The hearing, which the Hansons will attend, occurs at 10 a.m., Oct. 3, at the Jeschke Fine Arts Center at the University of Sioux Falls.

The Hansons reside adjacent to the southern edge of the Hyperion "footprint." They are adamantly opposed to the project, said to be the country's first all-new oil refinery in more than 35 years.

"Can you imagine waking up in your home and seeing the lights 24 hours per day from an oil refinery?" Carolyn asks, voice rising. "Do you want smokestacks outside your home?"

Air quality, water quality and land quality hang in the balance, they assert.

Former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds recently made the rounds in the area of the proposed refinery. The Hansons learned of the his visit 30 minutes before his vehicle sped past their home. That half-hour notice gave Carolyn time to spray paint and display a sign on their driveway.

"Shame on you, Gov. Rounds!" it reads.

"This is the best farm land in South Dakota for raising crops and a garden," Adrian says.

He'll load his van with friends and family members and drive to Sioux Falls a week from today to sit quietly as the Supreme Court considers arguments from both sides.

Hyperion officials say the long process has made it difficult to secure investor funding. Hyperion must begin construction by March 2013, some 18 months after an amended permit was issued by the South Dakota Board of Minerals and Environment.

The oil refinery may result in 4,500 construction jobs over a four-year construction period and some 1,800 permanent jobs.

Promises, promises the Hansons say. They have derived a living on land around Spink for at least 149 years, dating back to when Adrian's grandfather helped establish St. Paul Lutheran Church of rural Elk Point, S.D.. The church celebrates its 150th anniversary next year.

On his 88th birthday, Adrian Hanson takes calls from well-wishers. He carries a 30-pound watermelon into the yard and talks of carrying out his civic duty, heavy lifting of another stripe.

"I know there are people on the other side of the issue," Adrian says. Longtime Union County friendships have died on the Hyperion vine.

"The farm has been in my family since 1929," he says. "I'm fighting this for future generations."


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