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Whitehall votes against sand and rail projects

According to an article published in the June 20, 2013 issue of the Trempealeau County Times and written by editor Scott Thomson, the hydraulic-fracturing sand industry suffered a major setback last week by the hand of the Whitehall City Council.

What was termed as a controversial project, the council voted unanimously to suspend negotiation with an Eau Claire firm called Whitehall Sand and Rail on annexation into the city of Whitehall. The firm proposed to build a “frac” sand processing and loading operation on land in an adjoining township.

The firm had filed a letter of intent to annex into the city earlier this year, after which the council agreed to begin negotiations. The council took that action early in a five-hour meeting that focused mostly on the council’s committee of the whole for review of a proposed ordinance providing for the licensing of non-metallic mines.

The council also adopted an extraterritorial zoning covering the land where the firm’s facility would be located.

Whitehall Sand and Rail representatives were the only ones to speak during the public comment period of the meeting. Like in Glenwood City, the proposed project and ordinance under consideration at Whitehall, have drawn much opposition.

Whitehall council approved the extraterritorial zoning for a one-mile jurisdiction, prompting one alderman to question, why not make the zone one and a half- miles, which is allowed by the state. But the Town of Lincoln, chairman, said his board’s discussion with the city only concerned the Whitehall Sand and Rail site.

One of the city’s aldermen wanted lower noise levels, a larger area where mining operations would have to guarantee property values, mandatory air quality monitoring and other tougher restrictions.

However, the city’s attorney urged the committee to use restraint in establishing limits. He cited a “reasonableness” standard that would reduce the likelihood that the city would be sued over the regulations, and make it easier to defend against any legal challenges. The city’s engineers also pointed out that some restrictions in the ordinance could apply to other businesses, including agriculture.

During a part of the meeting that discussed air monitoring, the council president pointed out that there were at least two other industries in the city that could have air quality issues.

Six days after the council meeting the Whitehall city council met again and adopted a non-metallic mining licensing ordinance. They settled on a one-mile limit within which property values would be guaranteed even after the city’s legal counsel warned that that expansive a guarantee zone would be problematic for the city. The attorney said that the council should either eliminate the distance language, or make it a quarter-mile. The attorney said that the city had other means to assure the compatibility of land uses.

The more expansive distance could involve other factors that could affect property values, and guaranteeing those values in a city is very difficult. The attorney advised the council not to involve yourself in private property disputes, there’s only one loser, and it’s not the private property owners. The attorney indicated that the ordinance was singling out one industry, that’s very hard to defend in court, he informed the council.