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Public takes time to comment on Vista Sand

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE — The Dunn County Board room was filled with people September 19 for the Vista Sand proposal for a rezone — and then they found out that Vista had withdrawn the application.

Since they were already at the meeting, some of them wanted to comment on the proposed rezone anyway, even though the county board would not be voting.

Vista Sand had requested a rezone from agricultural to industrial for a 188-acre parcel along U.S. Highway 12 between state Highway 79 and Knapp for operating a facility to ship frac sand by rail mined just south of Glenwood City.

Gordon Otterson, a village trustee on the Downing Village Board, was first on the list of those to comment.

Residents in the village and the Downing Village Board had expressed a number of concerns about the Vista Sand proposal, Otterson said.

Downing is 300 yards downwind from the proposed frac sand mine, and silica sand dust is considered a health hazard by several federal agencies, he said.

Downing does not have a municipal water supply, and instead, each residence has a private well. The frac sand mine proposes to use high capacity wells, and would the sand mine’s water use lower the water table to the point where village residents would have problems with their wells? Otterson wondered.

Vista proposed to operate the mine site 24 hours a day, six days a week, and Downing residents were also concerned about noise and light pollution, he said.

Truck traffic from the sand mine was one of the main issues. The trucks would be traveling state Highway 170 through Downing. Highway 170 also is Downing’s Main Street and is the only street where school buses travel and make stops, Otterson said.

In addition, the village’s residents and village trustees were concerned about road damage. Highway 170 is a state highway, and the state would take care of road maintenance, but the shoulders are the responsibility of the Village of Downing. Repairing the shoulders would constitute an additional cost to the taxpayers of the village, Otterson said.

Village trustees were concerned as well about the sewer lines running beneath Main Street and the possibility of damage from heavy truck traffic, he said.

Because of the sand mine’s proximity, a decrease in property values was an additional concern for residents and village trustees, Otterson said.

Town of Lucas

Angela Davis, chair of the Town of Lucas, noted that the township borders the Town of Menomonie, the Town of Stanton and the Village of Knapp.

Members of the Lucas Town Board and the Lucas Plan Commission signed a resolution opposed to the Vista Sand proposal, Davis said.

All of the meetings about sand mines generated a “huge turnout” of people, she noted.

The sand mining operations would benefit a few people economically but many more people would be impacted negatively, Davis said.

The proposed frac sand loading facility would be on the edge of the Town of Menomonie, but many people would be affected beyond the Town of Menomonie, she said.

The comprehensive plans focus on a desire to maintain the rural landscape, and a rezone would be inconsistent with the comprehensive plans and the county’s zoning ordinance, Davis said.

Accentuate the positive

Bruce Trimble, a former Menomonie resident who is a retired dentist and a current resident of the Town of Sherman, said that change is inevitable and it is the responsibility of public officials to make sure the change is in the “right direction.”
“Don’t chase opportunity away. Make it what you want it to be,” he said.

Public officials should “accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative,” Trimble said.

Town of Menomonie

Frank Bammert, chair of the Town of Menomonie, said the hours of operation included in the proposed nonmetallic mining overlay district ordinance were a problem and were too restrictive.

Controlling traffic is up to the local community and setting hours of operation should not be in the ordinance, he said.

The Menomonie Town Board is in full support of the Vista proposal, Bammert said.
As for the comprehensive plan, Bammert said it is a “guide” but it is not “gospel.”

The Town of Menomonie is currently researching and considering updating the township’s comprehensive plan, he said.

Property value

Pat Eggert of Colfax said she has questioned herself many times over the past few years about the mining issue and whether she was “over-reacting” or “being too worried.”
Eggert said she has friends who live in Barron and Chippewa County where there are a number of sand mines already operating and that they don’t know if their homes will be worth anything with the sand mines next to them.

Eggert said the degradation of property values in the Town of Menomonie was a concern, and that while property owners have rights, neighbors also have the right to use their property and to not be deprived of the property value.

Economic growth

Thomas Pearson, a social science professor at UW-Stout with a doctorate in anthropology, talked about a recent economic impact study in Buffalo County that concludes economic growth in sand mining areas is “modest at best.”

According to the UW-Stout website, Pearson is currently researching the social impacts of frac sand mining in Wisconsin.

Mining does not create long-term economic stability, Pearson said.

As a “boom and bust” industry, mining transfers the volatility to the local economy, he said.

Some of the sand mines in Chippewa County have already laid off truck drivers and have reduced production, Pearson said.

Dunn County should conduct an economic impact analysis before considering other frac sand proposals, he said.

Mining overlay

A public hearing on Dunn County’s proposed nonmetallic mining overlay district ordinance is scheduled for October 9.

As of September 21, a draft of the proposed nonmetallic mining overlay ordinance had not yet been posted on Dunn County’s website.