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Helmut Schmidt, Published April 24 2013

Area groups plan protest of Offutt dedication

MOORHEAD – Area social and environmental activists are using billionaire Bill Gates’ visit to Concordia College on Saturday to get their voices heard.

At 4 p.m. Friday, a group of Concordia students has put together a panel discussion on business ethics and the effects of industrial agriculture in the region, as well as the oil boom in western North Dakota.

That discussion, titled “Both Sides of the Story,” will be in the college’s Jones Science Building, Room 212, said Concordia senior Kelsey Kava.

A protest is also planned at 9 a.m. Saturday across from the front entrance of Memorial Auditorium, organized by the Toxic Taters Coalition.

That group will protest the dangers of pesticide drift from aerial crop spraying on potato fields, said Carol Ashley of Park Rapids, and Robert Shimek, a White Earth Indian Reservation resident.

Shimek said some protesters will also focus on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, used to get at oil and gas in the oil fields.

Ashley will be on the panel for Friday’s event, she said.

Gates, known for his entrepreneurship in guiding Microsoft, as well as for his philanthropy, is the keynote speaker for the dedication of the Offutt School of Business.

The school is named after Concordia graduate and benefactor Ron Offutt.

Offutt is the founder and chairman of RDO Equipment Co. and the R.D. Offutt Co. He’s the biggest potato farmer in the nation, earning the nicknames Sultan of Spuds and Lord of the Fries.

Offutt will provide opening remarks at Saturday’s event at Memorial Auditorium, which starts at 10:30 a.m. Oil billionaire Harold Hamm, the chairman and CEO of Continental Resources, will introduce Gates, a Concordia spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday.

Kava said Offutt and Hamm have gotten a lot of good press in the weeks leading up to Gates’ visit for their business acumen and generosity, but she said their businesses also affect people and the environment adversely.

“We’re concerned that only one side of their stories is being presented,” she said.

Ashley said she has dealt with the effects of pesticide overspray for 17 years.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583