March 27, 2013
“Help me,” the Jackson County resident wrote. “My dream home is almost built.” He explained that as he finished his new home near Black River Falls he learned his neighbors all signed contracts to sell their land to a sand mining company.
The man was devastated.
“I bought this property for its views, fresh air, wildlife, peace and quiet,” he wrote. “Now I feel all this is threatened.”
Frac sand mining is rapidly proliferating in western Wisconsin and the impacts are taking many residents by surprise. Property owners are often unaware of mine prospecting near their property. Sometimes they learn of a planned mine by talking with neighbors or reading news stories after the mine application is approved.
Hundreds of local citizens contacted me for help. Many asked for new laws to help alert them about prospective mines near their property before final approval so they can be involved in the process.
In response to their serious concerns I am introducing a five-point plan to protect property-owners’ right to know about sand mines in their neighborhood.
The first point is to protect buyers’ right to know. My bill would require an owner selling property to disclose on the required real estate report whether the owner has notice or knowledge of a contract, or an option to contract that allows for frac sand mining on a neighboring property.
The second point increases public notice before action on sand mine applications. This proposed law would require local government considering a frac sand mine application to publish at least two separate newspaper notices at least 30 days prior to taking action on an application. The bill would also require sending written notice via first class mail to property owners or occupants situated within one mile of the proposed mine.
My third proposal would help residents and local governments be better prepared by making frac sand mine prospecting public.
The bill would authorize counties to issue licenses for frac sand exploration. Exploration consists of drilling holes in search of frac sand or establishing the nature and extent of a frac sand deposit. A person applying for a frac sand exploration license would submit a bond to ensure that drill holes are properly filled and have proof of liability insurance covering personal injury and property damage. The licensee must also notify the county before drilling begins and before filling a drill hole. This process is similar to existing metallic mining laws. I would also require the Department of Natural Resources to provide technical assistance if a county so requests.
Local government officials often feel they have little power to protect communities when negotiating with a frac sand mining company. Some zoning ordinances give local officials little power to negotiate with mining companies on topics such as hours of operation, blasting policy, damage to local roads, groundwater usage and air pollution.
My fourth proposal would require frac sand mining to always be listed as a conditional use in areas zoned for agricultural use. Requiring a conditional use permit gives officials an opportunity to negotiate conditions for operation of a mine; keeps the benefits of local control and brings to public hearing the issues related to sand mine siting.
Industrial sand mines impact the surrounding area in a number of ways. Noise, dust, blasting and heavy truck traffic are just some ways sand mines impact the area. My fifth proposal would create a meaningful buffer zone to protect neighbors from the impact of mines.
Specifically the bill would prohibit a frac sand mine, frac sand processing facility, or frac sand loading facility from being located within 2,500 feet of a residence or a residential zoning district.
This five-point plan is in the best interests of all parties affected by sand mines. Adjacent property owners will have advance notice and be involved in local decisions. Mine owners will protect themselves by having more opportunity to interact with the community and address concerns from neighbors. Local government will benefit by having a more transparent public process where the interests of all stakeholders are considered.