By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — The Dunn County Zoning Board of Adjustment has approved a special exception for an agricultural sand mine in the Town of Wilson.
The Dunn County BOA granted the special exception following a public hearing May 13.
Brian Wirth of Ridgeland, Wirth Brothers Construction, applied for the special exception to operate the 25-acre sand mine in Section 12 south of county Highway V.
Amanda Hanson of the Dunn County Land Conservation office reported that Wirth had applied for a reclamation permit, that the application was complete, and the land conservation office would issue a decision on the reclamation plan no later than July 12.
“The sand from the pit will be going to dairy farmers for bedding … this has nothing to do with frac sand,” Wirth said, noting that Wirth Brothers has been in business for 35 years.
Wirth Brothers has operated four bedding-sand pits in Barron County for years, but the Barron County pits are now depleted, he said.
The sand at the Town of Wilson site is not the right kind for frac sand, but it is ideal for cow bedding because it does not contain any rocks, Wirth said.
The sand pit will have a maximum depth of 20 feet, he said.
Wirth provided BOA members with a list of customers to whom he has delivered bedding sand over the past year and said that he is still delivering to most of those on the list.
Gene Hanson, chair of the Town of Wilson, said the town board supported Wirth’s proposal 100 percent.
The reputation of Wirth Brothers is good, and they are known as good stewards of the land, Hanson said.
Although the proposed site is 40 acres total, Wirth plans to only mine sand from 25 acres.
The company currently has a one-acre pit open at the site, because legally, “I can open one acre without a permit,” Wirth said.
Under the Dunn County non-metallic mining ordinance, a special exception can be granted for a 25-acre mine, he noted.
Wirth said he plans to do continuous reclamation.
The sand pit will never have more than three acres open at a time, and the site will be reclaimed with grass and trees for wildlife habitat, he said.
According to the Dunn County ordinance, a buffer zone must be maintained of 200 feet from the road and 100 feet from the property line, unless adjoining landowners grant a waiver.
Wirth told the BOA that the adjoining landowners to the west are farming their land and that they would be willing to grant him a waiver for a 50-foot buffer.
The sand pit will not have any buildings, and the operation will not involve any crushing, washing, screening, drying or stockpiling of the sand, he said.
The sand will come out of the ground damp and will be loaded and hauled right away; the average haul rate will be two or three loads a day, Wirth said.
Last year, Wirth Brothers hauled nearly 1,200 loads from the Barron pits, and Wirth said he expects to haul a similar amount from the Town of Wilson pit.
Because the sand is damp when it is hauled, according to Wisconsin Department of Transportation regulations, the loads do not have to be covered with a tarp, he said.
“(But) if the DOT wants us to tarp (for some reason), we will,” Wirth said.
Any run-off water or rainwater will stay in the pit and will soak away, he said.
“It’s so sandy, I don’t think we will have a problem with water,” Wirth said.
The sand pit will operate 12 months out of the year because the animals need bedding year round, he said.
Diane Morehouse of Menomonie, BOA member, expressed concern about protecting the groundwater and whether Wirth would be mining into the groundwater.
According to state Department of Natural Resources regulations NR135, nothing prevents mining into the groundwater, Hanson said.
Wirth said he has no desire to create a pond on site, but that by the same token, the DNR approves when wetlands are created because so many wetlands are being lost to construction projects.
Morehouse noted that the Dunn County nonmetallic mining ordinance places a significant value on protecting groundwater.
Juliet Fox of Menomonie, chair of the BOA, said she was concerned that the 25-acre sand pit could have a “variable” location on the 40-acre site.
“I don’t like that very much … I am uncomfortable with the variable of where the 25 acres is,” she said.
The exact location of the 25 acres is spelled out on the reclamation plan, Wirth said.
Wirth Brothers already has a road into the site and plans to mine to the south on one side of the road and then back up to the north on the other side of the road, he said.
The entire 40 acres is needed in order to maintain the buffer zone of 200 feet from the road and 100 feet from the property line, Wirth noted.
Several BOA members expressed concern about possible damage to Highway V.
Jesse Rintala, acting Dunn County highway commissioner, said that for frac sand operations, for example, the highway department can place a restriction on hauling at any time if damage is occurring and can ask for funds to maintain the road.
Dorothy Enger, BOA member from Colfax, asked if Rintala anticipated a problem with the Wirth sand pit.
“No. The loads are minimal,” Rintala said.
Tim Lienau, BOA member from Menomonie, wondered when Highway V had last been repaved.
Highway V is at the end of its life for pavement, but when it is time for road work, it will be resurfaced but not reconstructed, Rintala said.
The highway authority has the ability to negotiate road agreements, and the county can collect treble damages, said Scott Cox, Dunn County corporation counsel.
It is in the best interests of companies not to damage the roads, he said.
Darlyne Landis, who lives not far from the proposed site, said she was concerned about the groundwater and the water for her geo-thermal system.
Wirth Brothers installed her geo-thermal system, Landis said.
“No one has told me my well and my geo-thermal system are not going to disappear,” she said.
The sand pit operation will not be installing a high capacity well, will not be doing any washing of the sand and will not be removing water from the site, Wirth said.
Wirth reiterated that he has no desire to create a pond on the site.
During their deliberations, BOA members noted that the sand pit would not be expected to have any impact on property values since the location is agricultural in a sparsely populated area and because of the tree buffer zone of 200 feet from the road and 100 feet from the property line.
BOA members also noted that the sand pit is a permitted use under Dunn County zoning, that the reclamation plan will conserve natural resources, and there was no testimony indicating the sand pit would have an adverse effect on health, safety and welfare or that it would create a nuisance.
If the Board of Adjustment does not approve the special exception, dairy farmers will have to haul in sand from elsewhere, so the Wirth operation would be serving local businesses, Fox said.
In a motion to approve the special exception, Morehouse included two conditions: no possibility of a waiver from adjoining landowners for smaller buffer zones and a requirement that the trucks always be tarped, regardless of DOT regulations.
Wirth said being required to tarp the trucks would create a hardship and that other companies hauling sand or limestone, or even the county’s trucks, are not required to tarp.
Fox said she would not be in favor of requiring every load to be tarped, but that perhaps the trucks could be tarped under “dry conditions.”
Cox pointed out that “dry conditions” would be a vague and unenforceable condition.
An amendment Enger offered to remove the tarp stipulation died for the lack of a second.
The Dunn County Zoning Board of Adjustment voted four to one to approve the special exception.
Morehouse, Lienau, Enger and Tom Walsh of Menomonie voted in favor of the motion. Fox voted against the motion.