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Editorial: Whatever happened to the local control mantra?

Perhaps many of you read Axel Bogdan’s letter last week: “Don’t let state Legislature seize local town controls.” Bogdan, a Kinnickinnic town board supervisor, warned about a proposed bill by two Republican state lawmakers — Sen. Tom Tiffany, Hazelhurst, and Rep. Joan Ballweg, Markesan.

Their bill would curtail local governments’ ability to set limits on nonmetallic mining — more specifically, frac-sand mining. Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos was hardly more reassuring, saying it’s a good bill but there’s no time to get it passed until spring.

Frac-sand mining has materialized all over. Wisconsin has about 115 operations, most in western Wisconsin. Fine-quality sand is excavated and shipped elsewhere for new extraction methods by oil and natural gas companies.

Demand is booming. Media outlets quote Richard Shearer, CEO of Texas-based Superior Silica Sands, declaring that “Wisconsin is the global epicenter…and we’re just getting started.”

Towns and local communities have reacted to this boom, as they should, with caution. Unanswered questions remain about environmental harm, including groundwater contamination, air pollution from blowing dust particles, noise from blasting and late-night machine operations, land-use reclamation, plus wear-and-tear on roads from processions of heavy trucks hauling loads of sand.

Some nearby towns, such as Kinnickinnic, have enacted temporary mining moratoriums until local controls are voted on. Bogdan, representing his constituency, says about the pending state legislation in his letter: “It appears the bill was written with only the mining operation side in mind and intends to take away the ability of locally elected officials to protect their communities from adverse mining impacts.”

Adds Bogdan about locally elected officials: “They understand…better than a centralized government or bureaucrat far away.” But Tiffany, the bill’s sponsor, says frac-sand miners are tired of dealing with a hodgepodge of local mining restrictions.

What a shame having to deal with the local yokels. How much simpler if big government, its ears pulled around by out-of-state big business, could just spell it out with a uniform rules. One size fits all! Blast, baby, blast!

We say absolutely not. Regardless of the presence of valuable mineral resources — whether below Kinnickinnic, Clifton, River Falls, Pleasant Valley, Martell or Troy — it’s up to those local residents, those local town boards, to decide whether they want their land carved up for mining and, if so, how they choose to protect their roads, water, air and property values.

In the town of River Falls, Supervisor Tom Sitz walked out of a meeting last week as discussion turned to mining and state vs. local control. Sitz said locals don’t have the expertise; control should be handed over to the state DNR.

Sitz’s colleagues on the Town Board thought differently. Frustrated by their short-sightedness, Sitz was quoted as saying: “I’m the only one of this board with any vision…I feel so good I think I’ll go home,” and so he did, as the Town Board continued with its local business.

Area state lawmakers, especially Republicans who continually champion local control over big government dictates, must now decide if that mantra rings hollow or true.

Democrat State Sen. Kathleeen Vinehout, who represents a portion of Pierce County, including town of Martell, said the frac-sand bill is “another example of legislation happening in Wisconsin…that is being driven by out-of-state corporate interests that takes away local people’s ability to protect their health, their safety and their neighborhood.”

We look to our Republicans Sen. Sheila Harsdorf and representatives Dean Knudson, John Murtha, and Warren Petryk to see if they’ll side with the local mantra regarding mining operations or big government and outside special interests.