Sen. Vinehout Testimony Opposing Mining Bills SB632 and AB816

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Testimony to the Joint Public Hearing of the

Senate Committee on Workforce Development, Forestry, Mining and Revenue

& Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economy and Mining

March 3, 2014

Opposition to Senate Bill 632 and Assembly Bill 816

 Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members for the opportunity to testify on Senate Bill 632 and its companion Assembly Bill 816.

First, I’d like to thank the Chairman for his agreement to not pursue the passage of Senate Bill 349. I oppose this bill and appreciate his wisdom in not moving SB 349 forward.

This bill is not SB 349. There are very few commonalities the two bills share. Comparing the two bills is a mistake. This bill must be evaluated on what it does not what it does not do.

I oppose Senate Bill 632 and urge you to not bring the bill to a committee vote until three onerous provisions are removed.

1) The bill freezes in place the public health, safety and welfare protections for a community as they relate to existing sand mines. If this bill becomes law, the locals will not be able to write and enforce a new ordinance on any mine that has been permitted during the life of that permit – as long as 25 years.

2) In talking with local people who have written ordinances it appears this bill would invalidate nearly all local ordinances. On page 8 lines 22 and 23 an ordinance that specifically regulates nonmetallic mining may not affect or apply to any activity other than nonmetallic mining. The passage of this bill will require local communities to rewrite any ordinance that combined sand mine regulation with sand processing and sand transportation.

The combination of freezing in place rules affecting existing sand mines and invalidating most ordinances as they now exist will throw sand mine regulation into legal chaos. The bill creates a huge legal gray area on exactly which ordinance the sand mines would have to follow – the one made invalid by the bill or the new one rewritten to comply with the bill, or none at all.

Does anyone here know?

3) Finally, this bill sets up a back-door process by which mine owners can circumvent new restrictions and open a mine anywhere as long as they register the mineral deposit with locals.

Changing a little known part of the statute written when comprehensive planning was put in place, this bill would stop a local community from saying ‘no’ to any mine owner who registered his mineral deposit. Specifically on page 10, section 17: a community could not Prevent the extraction of the nonmetallic mineral deposit that is located on land while a registration under this section is in effect for that land.

In the following section the bill adds language about an ordinance to address concerns expressed in comprehensive plan that was in place for at least year.

The effect of this provision is to invalidate the work of the Town of Dover in my home county of Buffalo. The work of the Town was described by a local land owner in a letter to me and I paraphrase: In the last ten months Dover officials held more than a dozen public meetings including a community forum attended by a quarter of the town’s population. In July the Town of Dover voted unanimously to recommend the county deny a permit for a 400-acre mine. In October the town adopted Village Powers. In January of 2014 the Town adopted a Comprehensive Land Use Plan. In February of 2014 the Town of Dover adopted an ordinance resembling the ordinance of the Town of Cooks Valley.

While the Town of Dover was doing all this work, the four owners of the mine quietly registered their mineral deposits with the Register of Deeds. The land owner said, “Senate Bill 632 wipes out the Town of Dover’s intended protections, and with it, hours of community discussion and debate and thousands of dollars in local taxpayer money spent guiding the process.”


As another resident wrote to me:

We are urgently appealing to you to vote against the proposed bill SB 632 and AB 816. We are residents of the town of Dover in Buffalo County, Wisconsin.

Under the pressure from mining interests that include threats of lawsuits, bulling, intimidation, misrepresentation and bribery ~ our town board has voted unanimously to recommend that the proposed mine of River Valley Sands be denied…

Our town clearly does not want this mine, and we have done all that we know to prevent this mine from invading our town.  Our town has adopted village powers, adopted a non metallic mining ordinance similar to Cooks Valley’s ordinance, and our Comprehensive Land Use Plan clearly states that Dover Township does not want any industrial sand mine over 40 acres…

If Senator Tiffany’s bill is passed, it would make all of the work that our town has done to protect itself of no avail. Thousands of dollars have been spent by the town, as well as by landowners, that the voice of the town’s people may be heard.  Where do you find democracy speaking and being respected in this bill?

Mr. & Mrs. Steve Nelson, S-802 Rud Steinke Road, Mondovi, WI   54755


Let one of my constituents, Bill Mavity, who serves on the Pepin County Board and serves as Vice Chair on the County’s Law Enforcement/Zoning and Personnel Committees tell you:

These bills harm the efforts of elected municipal governments who – acting to protect the health, safety and welfare of their constituents and their families – approve some frac sand operations in locations where health and safety issues are minimized, and deny other frac sand operations to protect their children from harms such as diesel exhaust and silica particulate matter. These bills stop local elected officials from doing their jobs responsibly and fairly…

Passing SB 632 and AB 816 usurps local police powers and authority. Passing these bills changes local zoning to favor the frac sand industry. Passing these bills substitutes state government for local government as the guardian of the health, safety and welfare of local citizens with regard to zoning and local land use…

They want t build a large trans loading facility with 600 trucks a day within a ¼ mile of major schools. They want to build processing facilities and large open pit mines that destroy the beauty of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers and the tourism that depend on that beauty. These are the kinds of projects that local governments have turned away. Passing SB 632 and AB 816 gives these frac sand developers a green light, resurrects their rejected projects, gives them a new ‘existence’…

The proponents of this bill argue the bill merely ‘grandfathers’ existing mines. This language is very misleading.

Make no mistake: most of these mines are not ‘grandfathers’. According to LFB only 5 mines existed four years ago. These mines are ‘toddlers’. And like ‘toddlers’, they make mistakes.

Because most of these mines are ‘start-ups’ and some of them are ‘fly-by-nights’ many of them have problems. Note the plethora of environmental problems identified by citizens and the DNR.

According to reporting by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism 90% of sites visited by DNR were issued letters of noncompliance and nearly a fifth of Wisconsin’s active mines were cited for environmental violations. [1]

As toddlers grow up we need new rules.

Would you want “teen” sand mines in your backyard following “toddler” rules?

Or would you want the ability to adjust your community’s rules on the new mines, as the neighbors understood the effect of the mines on the communities – especially the cumulative effects of 100 and maybe 1,000 different mines?

Here is the practical reality of this world of rapidly growing ‘toddler’ sand mines:

The communities I represent are scrambling to get into place any ordinance. In some cases town residents have spent months writing ordinances (in some cases hiring attorneys at their own expenses) only to see the ordinance completely rewritten by 3 town board members who then approved an ordinance the complete opposite of the intention of their own appointed ‘citizens’ committee’.

In many cases the elected officials have ties to the sand mine industry. Many of these officials have decided not to run for re-election, or voters have decided they should no longer be elected officials. That is why in counties up and down the Mississippi River county board officials are being challenged as citizens say the elected do not represent their interests.


At the hearing for SB 349, Mr. Chairman, you read a letter from my constituent Mr. Tom Bice. I will remind you what Mr. Bice wrote.

I am the Chair of the Environment and Land Use Committee in Trempealeau County, WI. I am sending this letter on my own behalf and not Trempealeau County’s. I have been part of the committee for every Frac Sand (sic) mine in Trempealeau County. I have listened to the testimony of hundreds of people for and against sand mining.

…Many of these people are selfishly promoting their own interest over a neighboring property owner. Unfortunately they are succeeding at turning the public against mining by lies and misinformation.

The hysteria surrounding the negative press has been very successful in making the public think that this vitally needed industry is bad, but it is not! This industry is supplying a benign product that is leading America to an economic bonanza, like this country has not seen in many, many years. This new energy innovation will bring back manufacturing to this country and limit the wars over oil.

We need state regulation over the mining industry, because the small committees like I chair are influenced by emotional people with a selfish or naïve agenda. Committees struggle to make rational decisions when approached by people with tears in their eyes. I will add that all of the people that testify against the sand mines DROVE (sic) to the hearings , thereby using oil.  Sincerely,  Tom Bice

Tom Bice lost his re-election bid in the February 18th primary taking 46 votes. His two opponents Jon Schultz with 61 votes and Daryl Kramer with 55 votes will meet in the General Election April 1st.

Please remember your own constituents. Those who elected you to serve.

I’ve heard from folks of all political persuasions and walks of life. Having a nice neighborhood is not a partisan issue. Citizens tell me one main message – I spent a lot of time, money and love getting this beautiful place and these mines are destroying my way of life. Many tell me that the location of the mine and the lax rules they follow are now “destroying my business and my local community”.

Mr. Chairman and members, each of us was elected to serve the public’s interest and represent our constituents.

All of us serve at the pleasure of the voters. It is our job to represent the people’s interests.


Voters for Vinehout

P.O. Box 1274
Eau Claire, WI 54702