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Dunn County opposes legislation that would limit local control of sand mines

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE —  The Dunn County Board has gone on record as being opposed to proposed legislation that would limit the ability of town boards and county boards to control nonmetallic mining.

The Dunn County Board approved the resolution at the November 12 meeting.

 Senate bill 349 and Assembly bill 476 have been introduced in the Wisconsin Legislature and would prohibit local governments from enacting licensing ordinances to regulate nonmetallic mining operations.

A mine licensing ordinance developed in the Town of Cooks Valley north of Colfax was challenged all the way to the state Supreme Court.

In a decision dated February 8, 2012, the state Supreme Court upheld the mine licensing ordinance and ruled that town governments have every right to regulate sand mining through licensing ordinances.

The legislation that has been proposed would overturn the ruling by the Supreme Court and would only allow townships with their own zoning ordinances, or townships that have adopted county zoning, to regulate nonmetallic mining through zoning.

Zoning deals with the location of land uses but does not allow for setting hours of operation or for blasting or for negotiating road maintenance agreements or property value guarantees — unless the mining operation is a special exception, and then conditions could be set.

Town boards where sand mines are located also have expressed concern about heavy sand trucks running on the roads in the morning and in the afternoon when the school buses are picking up children or dropping them off.

Some of the mine licensing ordinances require the sand trucks not to be on the roads at certain times of the day when the school buses are running.

Town boards have included provisions in their mine licensing ordinances, too, that would require the sand companies to fix local roads if the heavy trucks damage the roads.

Local responsibility

The proposed legislation would limit more than mining, and there has been quite a lot of opposition to the two bills, said David Bartlett, county board supervisor from Boyceville.

The two bills take away the power of local governments in certain areas but leave the local governments with certain responsibilities, said Elton Christopherson, county board supervisor from Elk Mound.

If, for example, the mining operation damages the town roads, the town board still has the responsibility to fix the roads, and the local taxpayers will end up paying for the roads, he said.

“After the fact, the town or county will have to spend the money for the responsibility of fixing the roads,” Christopherson said.

No agreements

According to the resolution, the legislation would “prohibit the ability of towns and counties to enter into agreements with nonmetallic mining operations to gain protections for their local communities.”

The resolution notes as well that the legislation would prohibit local governments from requiring the monitoring of water or air quality and water quantity for sand mining operations and possibly for other types of activities, such as irrigation, stormwater regulation and management and the use of chemicals in lakes and rivers.

As for road damage, the legislation would require the town or county government to prove the damage was done willfully or intentionally or as the result of an unlawful act.

The Dunn County Board voted unanimously to approve the resolution opposing the proposed legislation.

A copy of the resolution will be sent to State Representatives Warren Petryk, Tom Larson, John Murtha, and Stephen Smith, and to State Senators Sheila Harsdorf, Kathleen Vinehout, Terry Moulton, and Robert Jauch.

A copy also will be sent to Governor Scott Walker; Wisconsin DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp; the Wisconsin Counties Association; and the Wisconsin Towns Association.