Citizens Need to Know About Proposed Sand Mines

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Jan 24, 2012 5 Comments ›› admin

January 23, 2012

Citizens across western Wisconsin contact me concerned about the siting of sand mines in their neighborhoods. Frac sand mining has become Wisconsin’s “gold rush.”

Wisconsin’s hills and bluffs are filled with a very special type of sand.  It has the exact hardness, shape, and purity the oil and natural gas exploration industry needs; plus it is easy to extract.

Sand mines have co-existed with their neighbors in western Wisconsin for thirty years. But the dramatic increase in demand for Wisconsin sand has caused existing mines to ramp up production and caused a growing number of new mines.

According to the Center for Investigative Journalism, last summer there were 16 active sand mines in Wisconsin. Five months later, Department of Natural Resources officials pegged the number of mines at 34 active mines with another twenty-five or so in development. This rapid growth of frac sand mining has caused concern about siting and operation.

This week I introduced two separate bills to address the most frequent sand mine concerns raised by constituents and local officials.

Many people told me they didn’t know a mine was proposed for their neighborhood. In one case a woman heard about the mine from a neighbor who saw a newspaper notice just days before the public hearing.

My first bill would make sure neighbors know about proposed sand mine well before local government acts to approve the mine.

The proposed law requires a 30-day notice of a public hearing to be published in local and regional newspapers. Neighbors within one mile of the proposed mine must receive notice of the hearing through first class mail. My goal is to give people adequate time to prepare for public hearings and encourage public participation and informed local decision-making.

Local officials told me they feel they don’t have the power to adequately protect their communities. When local officials consider a frac sand mine application, current regulations give them little power to negotiate with mining companies on topics such as hours of operation, blasting policies, damage to local roads, groundwater usage and air pollution. Local officials want the economic benefits of these mines but they also have a duty to protect the health and welfare of their communities.

My second bill would strengthen local zoning laws. Frac sand mining would become a conditional use in areas zoned agriculture. This means local officials would have an opportunity to negotiate conditions concerning the operation of the mine. Requiring a conditional use permit keeps the benefits of local decision-making and brings to a public hearing local issues related to the sand mine siting.

The bill also prohibits frac sand mining in residential areas. Industrial sand mining in residential areas is simply an incompatible land use. My proposed law would not affect existing mines but would prohibit future mines from locating in areas zoned residential.

The decisions we make related to sand mining will affect Wisconsin families for decades. Local officials are struggling to balance new jobs and economic growth with citizen concerns about health, safety and the existing economy of agriculture and tourism.

The two bills I introduced bring a common sense approach to involving citizens and their local officials in the public process of balancing Wisconsin’s “gold rush” with Wisconsin’s quality of life.

Picture Credits: (C)2012 Mary L. Kenosian ~ Frac Sand mine, Bloomer, Chippewa County, Wisconsin


  1. Carol Waser says:

    It is my understanding that the members of the Wisconsin senate are not planning to vote on the bill approved resently by the representatives but have been having meetings to propose a different bill that would be more protective of our environment and the people of Wisconsin. Are your bills part of what is being discussed the last several weeks?
    Thank you,
    Carol Waser

  2. John Hesselman says:

    Your Honor, I live in Chimney Rock, Trempealeau County, I live @ N43943 Austin Valley Road, Barley a half a mile from the proposed sand mine. This township is zoned “rural residencial” and the quality of life and the property values of the many people who would be affected by this mine would be literally distroyed. This part of Chimney Rock is a gem of west central Wisconsin. A historic church and several people live within 400 yards of the proposed site. Not to mention a nearby trout stream and small town roads. We need help in stopping this mine. The local town board is not the problem. The county board of supervisors holds our fate in thier hands. Too few people to make a decision of this magnitude that will negatively affect hundreds of people in our district. Greed can not win out on this spefific situation. Please, We need your help in this urgent matter. Thank you for the bill you’ve introduced regauring this matter. Good luck on your run for govenor. You have my vote., Respectfully submitted, John Hesselman

  3. Senator Vinehout,

    As an Alma, Wisconsin resident and business owner you can understand my concerns with the blatant disregard for Wisconsin’s Verified Open Meetings Law recently shown by the Buffalo County Board of Adjustment … the body who approves conditional use permit applications for silica sand mining in our County and your home. I have formally filed a Complaint against the chairman of this committee for these violations along with another Alma citizen and I’m encouraged by the bill you’ve introduced trying to improve this type of disregard for public notification and input.

    But the matter extends beyond where the mine is located, it also extends to the impact of the haul routes for transferring sand. Currently there are silica sand mines approved that would send 450 trucks daily along Wisconsin State Highway 37 to Wisconsin State Highway 35 (The Great River Road) with half going north through Nelson to Wabasha, MN and half going south through Alma & Fountain City to Winona, MN. Fountain City will also be impacted by 200 trucks daily from Wisconsin State Highway 88 to Wisconsin State Highway 35.

    The City of Alma and Fountain City have both passed resolutions asking the County to consider a one-year moratorium on silica sand mining. This evening the Zoning Committee passed a resolution to ask the County Board to consider a one-year moratorium.

    The impact on these small historic rivertown communities will be tremendous and I hope that your schedule will allow you to attend one of our local public informational meetings. We need your support!

  4. Eric Ehlenfeldt says:

    Senator Vinehout

    Directly south of the Cochrane Fountain City school in which my three children attend, Glacier Sands LLC has submitted an application for execution of a silica sand and processing facility and rail spur. The location of this proposed site lays between Kamrowski RD and Bensel Pond. This site alone, the trucks will take 1000 trips daily on Hwy35. This is the same Hwy that our children arrive and leave school on. With the increase in traffic the percentage of vehicle accidents rise and there should be no price on the childrens safety. I have seen what this type of sand does to a community. All you have to do is drive on the River Rd in Winona MN. The dust covered business for blocks. I really think that the health of the children that attend Cochrane Fountain City school should not be sacrificed.

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Voters for Vinehout

P.O. Box 1274
Eau Claire, WI 54702