Delta Township officials have gotten used to hearing the voice of Alana Chriest. Since the summer of 2020, Chriest has been offering public comments at various township meetings, speaking out against farming that is taking place in the township’s Hawk Meadow Park.
Chriest lives and works at the Capital City Bird Sanctuary across the street from the park and pays close attention to the area. She argues that many of the actions being taken in relation to farming harm the surrounding environment.
“This industrial farming has got to stop, this is not conservation,” Chriest said.
Chriest started her campaign to protect Hawk Meadow Park at township Parks, Recreation & Cemeteries Commission meetings. Parks and Rec Director Marcus Kirkpatrick said,
“She shared her concerns, and our parks commission certainly took her concerns and did its due diligence to determine whether or not they would recommend for the lease to go out for rebid,” Kirkpatrick said.
In October, the commission recommended discontinuing the farming in the park in the next lease. In December, township trustees decided to continue leasing the park for farming. Chriest started coming to Township Board meetings to voice her thoughts on this decision.
Township Board meeting agendas feature two periods for public comment near the beginning and the end. Speakers are given a maximum of 3 minutes to voice their thoughts on agenda items or new issues they introduce to the board.
At Monday’s meeting, Chriest used her public comment time to again address her issue with the commercial farming. This time, she also suggested that Township Supervisor Ken Fletcher was providing the farming opportunity as a favor to a “political supporter” and she announced plans to form an advocacy group within the township to gain traction against the farming and similar issues.
“My three goals are to advocate for general environmental policy in all policies they [the board] do, whether it’s engineering, infrastructure, parks and rec; advocate for more inclusive communities; and three… to get some new faces on the board,” Chriest said. She said she does not intend to run the board herself.
Fletcher acknowledged the board’s continued interactions with Chriest, expressing issues with the content and manner of Monday’s comments in particular.
“I’m not sure what her goal is anymore other than possibly to be a thorn in our side,” Fletcher said.
In response to Chriest’s suggestion that the farming contract was a political favor, Fletcher said, “she’s just making that up and being inflammatory.”
Despite his problems with Chriest’s comments, Fletcher said he values public input to help the trustees, and that they are not getting enough.
“We usually have very little participation at our board meetings,” Fletcher said.
He explained the difficulty of determining the significance of comments when the few voices are mostly opposition.
“As a board member, you have to try to decide, ‘are these handful of people who are opposed really speaking for the entire township?’” Fletcher said. “You listen to their concerns, but if you think it’s still in the best interest of the township, you don’t want to stop everything because there’s opposition.”
Fletcher also discussed what kinds of comments the board may respond more positively to.
“If a resident comes and shares some well thought out arguments for or against something and really relates it to their life and the township, I think it has great impact on people,” Fletcher said.
Chriest said she will not be “hitting the board as hard” with comments as she shifts her focus to her advocacy group. Although Chriest may not be there, the next board of trustees meeting will be held on April 4 with time for public comment.