By LeAnn R. Ralph
NEW AUBURN — State Representative Tom Larson and state Senator Terry Moulton got an earful about sand mines, school vouchers and several other topics at a listening session in the village of New Auburn.
Patricia Goodremote, a New Auburn resident, and Heather Andersen, a Town of Bloomer resident, said they both were concerned about the number of industrial sand mines in Wisconsin at a listening session held by the two legislators in the New Auburn village hall October 2.
Larson, of Colfax, represents the state’s 67th Assembly District. Moulton, of Chippewa Falls, is the senator for the state’s 23rd Senate District.
According to the Land Conservation and Forest Management website, Chippewa County has a little over 2,900 acres of sand mining operations that have received a permit.
Superior Silica Sands, with a permit for 475 acres, operates a dry processing plant just north of New Auburn, and the Chippewa Sand Company, with a permit for 176 acres, operates a dry processing plant just south of New Auburn.
Goodremote said she has not gotten a good night’s sleep since the sand mines started operating.
Goodremote was the clerk in New Auburn for 24 years and retired in 2003.
Between 500 and 600 sand trucks drive past Goodremote’s house every day.
“I can’t sit outside, there are so many trucks rolling by,” she said.
The trucks start rolling at 5 a.m.
“They hit the railroad tracks and BOOM at 5 o’clock in the morning. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep since they came to town,” she said.
Goodremote brought a white cloth with her that had black dirt on it.
The dirt, she said, came from wiping down her clothesline and the outside of her house. The sand mines and the sand trucks running constantly result in continual exposure to dust, dirt and haze, Goodremote said, noting that she suffers from asthma and allergies and that she expects the increased exposure to air pollution will shorten her lifespan.
Andersen asked if either Rep. Larson or Senator Moulton had toured any of the sand mines.
Senator Moulton said he had toured several sand mines, including the mine north of New Auburn and the EOG Resources sand mine.
Andersen offered to give the legislators a tour of other mines.
“They are atrocious. They are destroying our environment. They are taking down our bluffs and our hills,” she said.
Hunters and trappers no longer have access to the land where they used to hunt and trap and have to go somewhere else, Andersen said.
“When you destroy the environment of wildlife, every hunter knows that they will get pushed into other areas … too many of one species in one area can destroy a species,” she said.
“The corporations are taking down the land … I have talked to many experts who say this land, not for a long time, not for many, many years, cannot be reclaimed for farming … the reclamation plans are passive recreational. What the heck does that mean? You people have to get on top of this,” Andersen said.
One of the companies, Preferred Sands, is restructuring to avoid bankruptcy, she said.
Preferred Sands has a permit to operate a 225-acre sand mine in Chippewa County.
The state Department of Natural Resources cannot oversee the mines adequately because the agency is understaffed, Andersen said.
Rep. Larson noted that the DNR is in the process of hiring two more employees.
Andersen said two was not nearly enough.
Trempealeau County has 26 sand mines alone, and Chippewa County Land Conservation also is understaffed, she said.
Superior Silica Sand (which operates the dry processing plant north of New Auburn) has polluted Trout Creek, Andersen said.
A citizen discovered the pollution, and the company was fined a small amount by the county, she said.
McKeesy Marsh has been polluted by sand mining operations as well, Andersen said.
“The pollution that has gone into that marsh is unbelievable,” she said.
Goodremote and Andersen could not agree whether it is McKeesy Marsh or Keesy Marsh.
Town of Auburn officials recently met with Superior Silica Sand about a developer’s agreement, Andersen said.
One of Auburn’s new plan commission members asked if the company has ever been fined, she said.
“The answer was ‘no.’ It was a blatant lie because they polluted Trout Creek, and they were fined by the county,” Andersen said.
“We’ve got serious, serious issues … For what? For big oil corporations,” she said.
Andersen also is concerned about fugitive dust and how much crystalline silica it contains as it blows across the landscape.
Crystalline silica causes silicosis, a serious lung disease.
“We have no idea how far (the sand dust) travels. It could be miles. I think we’re all at risk,” Andersen said.
Several other people at the listening session said they were concerned about the private school vouchers and the lack of accountability for private schools that are receiving taxpayer money.
Paul Nevins, past president of the Wisconsin Association of Physics Teachers, said he was especially concerned about the lack of accountability.
Some of the private voucher schools had a success rate of 4 percent passing the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam (WKCE) in math, Nevins said.
The voucher schools do not take special education students, they do not bus their students, they do not take emotionally disturbed students, “they don’t do anything expensive,” he said.
The Milwaukee public school system has a success rate of 60 percent passing the WKCE, he said.
Some of the voucher schools “are not as good as the worst public school … it borders on fraud,” Nevins said.
Wisconsin has a serious problem in finding qualified teachers in the STEM areas — Science, Engineering, Technology and Math, he said.
The average bachelor’s graduate with a degree in physics earns $62,500 right out of college, Nevins said.
Chippewa Falls has been looking for a physics teacher for three years, and the pay is $28,500, he said.
“We have to find some way to encourage schools to find qualified people,” he said.
Nevins said the Wisconsin Association for Physics Teachers has gone so far as to discuss whether it is fair to continue training students to teach in Wisconsin or was it an ethically bad thing to do.
“That was a question that would have never occurred five years ago,” he said.
Senator Moulton said the legislature is working on accountability standards for the voucher schools.
Other topics of discussion at the listening session included tax credits for state residents sending their students to voucher schools; soil and water testing; collective bargaining; and raw milk.