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Dunn researching intergovernmental cooperation for sand mines

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE — Under state law, is it possible for two townships in different counties to agree to cooperatively regulate sand mines in the interests of the health, safety and welfare of township residents?

The issue came up for discussion at the Dunn County Planning Resources and Development Committee May 13 regarding a sand mine in the Town of Howard that could include as much as 2,000 acres.

The consensus of PR&D members and Dunn County’s corporation counsel, Nick Lange, is that it is entirely possible such an agreement could be made between two townships under the intergovernmental cooperation part of the state’s comprehensive planning law.

The sand mine in Howard would be right across the road from residents in the Town of Colfax in Dunn County.

The Town of Howard, an unzoned township in Chippewa County, has a nonmetallic mine ordinance that includes setbacks of 800 feet from the property boundary of any nonmetallic mining activity to a residence — but those setbacks do not apply to people living in the Town of Colfax in Dunn County.

So far, no formal application for the sand mine has been made to the Howard Town Board, noted Bob Walter, chair of the PR&D committee.

A recent telephone call by the Colfax Messenger to Dan Masterpole, Chippewa County land conservation, confirmed that there has been no formal application to Chippewa County for a reclamation permit for a sand mine in that part of Howard.

According to the Town of Howard’s mining ordinance, a company must have a reclamation plan approved by Chippewa County before approaching the town board about developing a sand mine.

Howard

The Town of Howard currently has one other sand mine, the S&S mine on county Highway B operated by EOG Resources.

Tom Zwiefelhofer, a supervisor on the Howard Town Board, attended the PR&D meeting to discuss the possibility of intergovernmental cooperation between the Town of Howard and the Town of Colfax.

Zwiefelhofer said he wanted to make it clear that he was not at the meeting to represent the Howard Town Board, but rather, that he was there as an individual who would be willing to take information back to the Howard Town Board.

“I am only speaking for myself and not the Town of Howard,” Zwiefelhofer said.

PR&D committee members were interested in hearing about Howard’s experiences with the EOG Resources sand mine.

Howard residents have concerns about noise, dust, mine blasting, mine lights, and truck traffic but what about groundwater and silicosis? Walter asked.

Silicosis is a lung disease caused by crystalline silica.

Right now there is a concern about high bacteria counts in water wells near the mine, Zwiefelhofer said, noting that no source has been established yet for the bacteria.

Zwiefelhofer also said the town board had recently heard that another well was contaminated with lead but that the property owner had not yet talked to the town board.

Steve Rasmussen, chair of the Dunn County Board, wondered why Howard had negotiated an agreement with EOG to only operate the mine during the winter months.

Zwiefelhofer said that it was a matter of mitigating mine activity and noise for people who wanted to be outside during the summer.

What the Howard Town Board had failed to consider is that during the winter, with frozen ground and no leaves on the trees, sound carries farther, Zwiefelhofer said.

Noise from the mine generally is not a bother to Howard residents at 3 p.m., “but it is at 3 a.m. when kids wake up” because of the banging buckets on the end loaders, he said.

EOG Resources has recently installed a conveyor belt to eliminate the banging of the end loaders, he said.

New mine

Two men who are working on developing the sand mine near the Town of Colfax are “middle men,” Zwiefelhofer said.

One of the men spoke at the Town of Howard’s annual meeting and said he was signing leases with property owners and wanted to sell the leases to a frac sand company.

One woman from the Town of Howard, Susan LaNou, who owns the Deluxe Beauty Salon in Colfax, said the “prospectors” wanted to buy her property but that the amount they were offering was not enough for her family to buy a similar-sized house and property somewhere else.

LaNou also said the amount of money offered was not as much as they had paid for the property and did not account for the amount of money they had put into making improvements and remodeling the house.

The prospectors said that if the LaNous did not sell their property now, for what they were offering, it would be worth even less with a sand mine next door.

The men who sat at her kitchen table said they wanted the mine to be 2,000 acres, LaNou said.

The men also were not willing to give them anything on paper, but instead wanted them to read the contract on their laptop computer, she said.

About a half dozen people from the Town of Howard and the Town of Colfax attended the meeting to say they were concerned about the sand mine and how it would affect their quality of life, their health and their property values.

Agreement

Nick Lange, Dunn County’s corporation counsel, said he thought it was possible, under Wisconsin law, for two townships to jointly exercise any power that was authorized by law.

The applicable statute for intergovernmental cooperation would be Chapter 66.0301, he said.

Municipalities routinely make intergovernmental agreements to contract for services, Lange noted.

Lange said he thought it would be applicable if two municipalities wanted to jointly exercise any power authorized by state law regarding land use if it were in the interests of the health, safety and welfare of their residents.

Any agreement would have to be approved by the two governmental bodies involved, he noted.

Even though the Town of Howard has setbacks from a nonmetallic mine to protect residences, those setbacks do not apply to residents in the Town of Colfax, said Gary Bjork, county board supervisor from Colfax and a member of the Colfax Town Board.

“There’s no protection for those houses across the road,” he said.

Howard’s ordinance includes a setback of 800 feet from the boundary of a nonmetallic mining property to a residence, but homeowners across the road in the Town of Colfax could find their houses are less than 100 feet from a sand mine.

Rasmussen wondered if the two town boards could come to an agreement that the setbacks would apply to any residence and not only a residence in the Town of Howard.

“I think the rationale is there to enforce it,” said Walter, who also is an attorney.

Madison

Rasmussen pointed out that there would be no help coming from Madison for protecting residents from issues related to sand mines because the legislators in Madison “are going the other way.”

State legislation proposed over the past year would have removed the ability of local governments to regulate nonmetallic mining.

“The second Tiffany bill would have negated our agreement with EOG,” Zwiefelhofer said.

The Tiffany bills did not get very far because of resistance from county and town officials and local residents, said Tom Quinn, county board supervisor from Downing and a member of the PR&D committee.

Quinn also is the executive director of the Wisconsin Farmers’ Union.

“We need to think pro-actively and not to be in a helpless position,” he said, noting that during an election year, the candidates’ positions on local control for local governmental bodies could have an influence on who is elected.

Walter said he wanted the issue of intergovernmental cooperation to be a recurring agenda item for the PR&D committee and asked Zwiefelhofer, Bjork and Kitz Cleary, county board supervisor from Colfax and a member of the PR&D committee, to stay in contact with each other and communicate with the committee.

Lange said he would do more legal research on the possibilities of intergovernmental cooperation to protect the health, safety and welfare of residents and would have an answer for the PR&D committee at the next meeting on May 27.