>   By Tony Ahern
   Let's talk a little about the grass roots.
   Not that underappreciated pop band of the hippie era, but the people who seemingly come from within the earth to create the base upon which we stand, to form the masses. The grass roots: the everyday common folks who, if they decide too, can create unstoppable waves.
   The credit for the passage of the $15.8 million 509-J school levy has to
   The school district had a sound plan, but it was an aggressive plan, and being presented on the heels of a national disaster and a plunging economy. Six weeks ago, not many people thought it had a Taliban's chance of passing, especially considering it needed the double-majority: 50 percent voter participation, then winning over 50 percent of those participants.
   But the group of parents, school officials and students determined to pass the levy were undaunted. They raised money to purchase ads, but they also put the time in to make hundreds of phone calls to remind people to vote. Those calls made the difference.
   Congratulations, 509-J, and to the Invest in Tomorrow committee.
   Another example of the power of the grass roots is with the Cogentrix proposal and the lightning storm which has arisen from it.
   At first, those vocally against Cogentrix were primarily neighbors of the potential plant and environmentalists. That's not the case anymore. The anti-Cogentrix effort has spread to include a wide range of people with various backgrounds and expertise, and longtime residents who only want the best for this community and area. Last winter, if a local vote was held on whether to allow the economically attractive Cogentrix plant, I think it would have easily passed; now, I think it would fail. The silent majority, I feel, have been swayed
   If Cogentrix cares about the opinions of the rank-and-file folks of Jefferson County -- the grass roots of our community -- then they have a monumental task before them. Right now, Cogentrix isn't losing the public relations battle, it's getting steamrolled.
   Some of the public relation success of the anti-Cogentrix contingent has been based on the twin fears of air pollution and abundant water use. Cogentrix has addressed those concerns, their vice president met with local officials and made a media presentation last week, but for some reason their message hasn't been sticking. Cogentrix officials have indicated they're looking forward to public forums on the project once their plan has been submitted. Maybe Cogentrix will take advantage of those forums to stem the avalanche of negative public opinion.
   Then again Cogentrix may not need the win over the people of Madras, Jefferson County and the tri-county area. Certainly the decision rests with the Energy Facilities Citing Committee and not Local Bob down the street. But with this project facing months of public scrutiny during the approval process, it seems to me the company would have worked harder to ease local concerns, to keep more people on their side. In the game of public opinion, they're getting beat on the streets.
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