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Clifton passes temporary moratorium on frac-sand mining

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River Falls Journal
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River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Not only did Clifton residents pack the town's regular August meeting to voice concerns about frac-sand mining, but many town of Oak Grove residents also showed up to give input.

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The Clifton Town Board passed a law declaring a moratorium on the expansion of existing or creation of new nonmetallic mining operations within the town.

This means that no new mines can be created and no current mining operations can expand until the town has a chance to study the impact of these operations.

The moratorium will allow the town nine months to study the possible impacts of nonmetallic mining operations and their processing plants on the health, safety and welfare of residents.

This includes air and water quality concerns, potential impact to the town's infrastructure, property values and the local economy.

This also allows the town and its residents time to consider amending the Town Comprehensive Plan and the opportunity to consider enacting zoning or other regulatory ordinances concerning nonmetallic mining.

What has sparked this moratorium is the growing use of frac-sand mining in western Wisconsin. Frac sand is high quality sand that is uniform in size and nearly pure quartz, which means it doesn't disintegrate easily when pumped from underground.

This makes it ideal to use in hydraulic fracking, the process of pumping a pressurized mix of sand, water and chemicals into the earth to open cracks to allow natural gas to flow through.

Wisconsin frac sand is in high demand because. It is being shipped to natural gas drilling sites in North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Deb McClure, town of Oak Grove, applauded Clifton for being proactive on the issue.

No mining companies have applied for permits in Clifton, but it has been a topic of hot debate in Oak Grove.

According to McClure, the mine going in at Diamond Bluff was in the works for 18 months before anyone knew about it.

McClure said the Diamond Bluff mine was approved last week.

Wisconsin Industrial Sand Company, a division of Fairmount Minerals of Ohio, owns the mine and the washing facility in the Town of Trenton. WISC also owns facilities in Maiden Rock, Bay City, Hager City and Menomonie.

According to McClure, trucks will be leaving the mining site every two to four minutes, 24 hours a day for the next 30 years.

McClure pointed out other concerns, such as the noise from the truck traffic, dust and health concerns related to the dust in the air surrounding the mining site and from uncovered trucks and railroad cars transporting the sand.

She also mentioned the pollution from the chemicals used to wash the sand once it's extracted from the earth.

Clifton Supervisor Greg Eggers agreed the issue needs to be explored thoroughly before decisions can be made about frac-sand mining in Clifton -- should any mine operator ever apply for a permit.

"We need time to study the impacts of this issue and develop an ordinance on what to allow or not allow," Eggers said.

Many Clifton residents voiced concern over what the frac-sand mining could do to their property values, health of their children and potential damage to underground piping and structures due to the underground blasting to extract the sand.

Ron Sweeney, N6384 1302nd St., pointed out that many homeowners' insurance policies won't cover damage caused by underground vibrations.

Joe Rohl, W11794 County Road MM, reminded everyone that property owners have a right to mine and that it is not illegal to mine, but that now is the time to update the law.

"We always find our way back to the town hall when we have a problem," he said.

Rohl thinks sand mining can be done correctly if rules are followed, but residents must be proactive and informed.

"I don't think we can assume it has to end badly," Rohl said. "We must look at this objectively. People's concerns are valid."

When someone asked the DNR's stance on the issue, McClure said the DNR has decided not to study the issue of ambient air pollution from silica sand mining because the particulates that go into the air are too small and there's no evidence they cause harm.

McClure went on to say that the mine in Diamond Bluff promises the trucks and railroad cars will be covered, so the sand can't blow around, but she questioned whether they will be able to guarantee that.

According to the website for Concerned Chippewa Citizens, silica dust from sand mining can be very harmful to the lungs because it is so tiny it cannot be seen, and is small enough to be inhaled.

It is especially harmful to the elderly and children and people who have problems with asthma and emphysema.

"All our kids are going to be guinea pigs until it's proven safe," McClure said.

McClure also pointed out that the Maiden Rock mine site has doubled in size in the last three years. WISC also has applications for mines in 30 other towns, she said.

One Oak Grove resident who lives at the junction of Highway QQ and Hwy. 35 in Oak Grove feared the mining companies are preying on small farming communities and many people are too afraid to speak up against their neighbors who want to sell their land to these companies.

The woman also pointed out that the sand will be spewed all over the highways, which is a shame considering Hwy. 35 was just named the most scenic drive in the United States. The sand on the road can also cause traffic fatalities, she said.

Town Board Chairman Leroy Peterson asked everyone present to continue supplying the board with as much information as possible.

"I'm glad you folks are concerned about our township," Peterson said. "I don't think you can stop it, but you can put restrictions on it."

Eggers said it's important to keep in mind that when done right, frac sand has many benefits.

He plans to go to a conference in Duluth next month concerning frac-sand mining and is considering inviting other towns to go with and pool the costs.

He also encouraged residents to call Congress members and pressure the DNR to study the issue.

In other business, a picnic license was granted to Dave Fodroczi of the Kinnickinnic River Land Trust for the fifth annual Kinni River Barn Dance on Sept. 8 at N8038 1130th St.

The Town Board gave building permits to:

  • Michael Fecht, W12057 757th Ave., for a garage.
  • Michael Halverson, W13095 675th St., for a garage.
  • Loren Meddaugh, W11216 748th Ave., for a storage shed.
  • Craig Orf, W11348 640th Ave., for a storage shed.
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