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Mining ordinance drafts go to Planning Commission

Fri, Sep 21st, 2012
Posted in All Government

Chris Gastner, Community and Business Development Specialist from CEDA and Fillmore County EDA Office, reported on information he had gathered as to effects of industrial sand mining on economic development in Wisconsin communities. Photo by: Karen Reisner

The ten-member Sand Committee has been meeting regularly since before the moratorium on mining was put into place late last February. About forty concerned citizens, many worried about possible negative effects of large industrial mines and others concerned about whether excessive limitations will be put on the mining industry, have faithfully attended the meetings. They ask questions, express their concerns and voice their suggestions. This September 18 meeting was the last for the Sand Committee. However, committee members will participate in Planning Commission discussions of the ordinances.

Originally, the moratorium was put into place to learn about the industry, study how to regulate the fast-growing industry and to amend Ordinance 721 to include the mining of industrial mining like that of ‘frac’ sand.

Over the many months the thinking has evolved to draft two separate ordinances. Ordinance 721 will have some revisions, but remain essentially the same and regulate traditional construction aggregate mining. The new Ordinance 736 is being specifically drafted to regulate industrial mining.

The Sand Committee voted to move the drafts of both ordinances to the Planning Commission. This is the next step in the process.

Effect on Economic Activity

Cris Gastner, Community and Business Development Specialist and Fillmore County EDA Office, was tasked by the committee with gathering information from communities in Wisconsin that have had large industrial mines already in operation. Fillmore County citizens had expressed their concern that the industrial sand mining industry would have a negative effect on economic activity in the county, especially concerning the tourist industry.

Jayson Smith, city planner in Chippawa Falls, Wisconsin, related to Gastner that the industrial sand mining industry has generally increased income and jobs in the county. Jobs not only in the industry, but also additional jobs in other community service areas like healthcare.

The EOG Resources plant that processes and ships out the sand by rail car employs 70 people with another 30 employed at the mine sites. The plant, which achieved full operation this last January, paid to the city of Chippawa Falls $1.4 million in property taxes last year. About 100 people also have been employed as truck drivers. Smith says the plant has had a positive economic impact on the city.

Two residential neighborhoods are near the plant. There apparently has been no negative impact at this point, no mass turnover of property because of the plant. Smith adds that water usage has not had a negative impact on the city’s water capacity. The plant uses 18,000 gallons of fresh water per day and recycles 90 percent of the water using flocculants. The plant processes enough sand to fill 50 train cars per day.

Smith sees two major negative issues due to the plant. With the increased rail usage wait time at rail crossings has increased, which will require more signage and caution. Quiet zones are needed for residential neighborhoods which are disturbed by train whistles.

Mike Jordan, president of the Chippawa Falls Chamber of Commerce, notes there has not been a negative impact on visitors to the community or tourism, even along the truck route. He suggests there has been a positive effect on food, beverage, and hardware businesses. He credits the sand industry with increased employment. The industry including mining, processing, and railroad facilities is expected to employ 2,500 more people when 86 facilities across the state become fully operational than were employed by the industry in 2008.


Bill Swanson, Lanesboro, suggested the study was not applicable to Lanesboro. Gastner felt it was a good comparison due to the similarity in outdoor recreation available in both areas. Swanson said Stockholm, Wisconsin, would be a better comparison.

Harvey Benson asked how permanent the jobs will be? He added we “know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.”

Monica Hatch, Lanesboro, insisted the only thing she sees as permanent is permanent damage to the land and bluffs.

Committee member Gary Ruskell maintained that the sand industry will provide year-round employment, more constant than tourism. He added the tourism industry adds to traffic also. He did seem to agree that the thing that could really be hurt is the landscape.

Renee Bergstrom asked the committee to consider the effect on trout streams due to runoff, increased turbidity and sediment and water temperature.

Robert Hatch, Lanesboro, asked that people in these communities be interviewed as to what they are living with, adding “that will be us.” Gastner said the greatest concern in Chippawa Falls is train traffic.

Karen Swanson insisted property values will go down near a mine, adding she would never buy a house next to a mine. Zoning Administrator Chris Graves noted that the county assessor’s office has not found any impact on property values near an active mine near Highland.

Bonita Underbakke insisted 2,500 jobs for the whole state of Wisconsin is measly. Gastner said he personally wouldn’t consider 2,500 jobs to be measly.

Frank Wright complained that they hadn’t talked about the downsides which would be useful information. He added nobody knows the size, scope and duration of the industry for Fillmore County. Limits need to be set.

Committee member Steve Duxbury asked Mathy Construction representatives if they hire local for big projects. They said they normally do. Gastner noted that we want people to move into our communities for jobs, citing the negative population growth of small rural communities.

Fran Sauer asked for clarification on what unit of government can set limits. Committee member Duane Bakke explained that the state sets minimum standards and the county can further restrict those limits, and the township can even further restrict those limits. The county can amend their ordinances to make those limits more or less strict as long as they remain within the state standards.

Ordinance 721

The language in 721 will remain pretty much the same with some clarifications on blasting and reclamation and the addition addressing off road parking. Committee member David Williams noted if an operation is permitted for 721 and the operator wants to produce industrial sand, he will have to get a new CUP under Ordinance 736. A motion to send Ordinance 721 to the Planning Commission was approved, where the ordinance draft will be discussed, refined, and may have further changes before there is a public hearing.

Ordinance 736


The Road Maintenance Agreement (736.11) will be required and operators will have to agree to pay a road impact fee. The money will be kept in a fund and if it is determined after a period of years that an excessive amount has been collected, excess monies will be returned to the operator.

Bakke said they went away from the bond idea for roads and generally copied Winona County’s fee based system. Trucks will only be allowed on hard surface roads except when a short section of gravel greatly reduces the hauling distance. The exception must be applied for by the operator and approved, in which case the operator must maintain the roads.

•Limit on Number of Active Mines

Bakke introduced a new possible restriction for the ordinance which would limit the scope of the industry within the county. He proposed putting a county-wide limit on the number of active industrial sand mines to six or eight. He compared it to animal unit caps the county has for feedlots or limits cities have on the number of liquor licenses allowed at a time. Bakke explained the limit on mine size and number will allow them to better know after a few years what the effect of the industry will be on the county. A new application will be considered with the closure of an existing operation. It is possible there could be waiting lists.

Frank Wright said the proposed limit on the number of active mines was appreciated. Bakke said the eight could be in a row, so the limitation would not prevent clustering. Findings of fact could limit the size of a cluster due to road traffic in an area. Bakke said it just about always comes back to road use.

Ron Garrison, geologist from Milestone Materials, added that the number one determinant as to whether there could be a cluster is geology or sand availability.

Graves suggested Bakke’s language limiting the number of active mines be added to 736.07 as number 5.

Washing Prohibited

A discussion ensued when it was noted that under 736.04 Prohibited Activity there was a prohibition of washing with water and the use of chemicals or flocculants. Screening and sorting at the mining site will be allowed.

Larry Thompson, Reilly Construction, complained that the prohibition of washing at the site will increase truck traffic as 30 to 40 percent is removed in the washing process. This material would have to be trucked back to be used for reclamation. Swanson insisted it shouldn’t increase truck traffic as the trucks hauling to the processing site have to come back.

The DNR manages water appropriation at the state level. Williams argued that the DNR is not a sufficient source to regulate water as state standards don’t exist. Tara Wetzel, Mathy Construction, maintained large water volume permits from the DNR are the hardest to get. Committee member Donna Rasmussen said the SWCD can review water appropriation permits and comment on them. Enough comments can cause the DNR to seek further information.

Williams said the prohibition on washing on the mining site is also about not industrializing the Ag District. Rita Leduc insisted the extent of the Jordan aquifer is not known. It bothers her that the ordinance language allows sand mining to be within 10 feet of the water table, as sand is a good filter. She reported that in Wisconsin certain herbicides have shown up in the water supply in the central sands region. Leduc declared we “can’t live without water.” Numerous people expressed their support for the prohibition of washing with water.

A motion to move Ordinance 736 to the Planning Commission was approved with the additional language limiting the number of active mines at a time within the county. The Planning Commission will further discuss and refine the language before a public hearing is scheduled.

Committee chairman Tom Kaase said the work of the committee along with the input from citizens attending has helped us become more educated on this subject.


Your comment submission is also an acknowledgement that this information may be reprinted in other formats such as the newspaper.


6:26:20, Sep 23rd 2012

Tom Jarland says:
Its quite obvious theres no one on the commitee but a bunch of tree huggers that dont have any idea what they are talking about but they dont care about anyone but themselves.


10:40:32, Jan 26th 2013

Allamakee County Protectors says:
Mr. Jarland -
By assumption, it is quite obvious you do not care a whit about the environment or anything else but yourself. The damage these mines do to the landscape is not only irrevocable, it is permanent. Is that the kind of legacy you wish to leave for future generations?

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