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LTE – Lisa Bragg-Hurlburt – 7-2-2014

To the Editor:

The people of Colfax should be aware that there’s an attempt underway to bring a second sand mine to the nearby town of Howard, right along the Chippewa and Dunn County line. There has been no application for a permit yet, but some property has been acquired and there is an ongoing attempt to sign land-owners up for a long-term lease of their mining rights.

This is a  potential life-changer for all of us — and not for the good. It is a common misconception that mines will bring a host of jobs to an area (sand mines typically get by with very few employees and are of necessity only around for a few years, since they leave once the resources are depleted). Similarly, tax revenue is minimal when compared with the expense of road damage and a decrease in everyone’s property values (typically 30 percent).

A sand mine is a permanent scar on the landscape. Mines may promise to reclaim land when they leave, but they do not promise to restore it. Chemicals used in the mining process may potentially contaminate the water supply. If high capacity wells are used, our aquifer may be further depleted. Explosives are used to loosen the sand and heard for miles around. Sharp fractured dust participles will blow off piles, moving trucks and rail cars, even if there is an attempt to cover the sand in transit. There is very little regulation and oversight of dust and water quality from independent sources. This is particularly frightening for those of us with asthma and breathing issues.

Increased truck and train traffic will also bring noise and disruption.

While farmers and families may be committed to long-term care of our land, and consider the quality of life for future generations, “boom and bust” out-of-state mining companies are less concerned with the long-term.

Too often when people hear about sand mining, they feel hopeless; what can one person or community do when there is so much big money involved?

We can pay attention. We can go to our town and village meetings and make sure sand mines are part of the discussion. If we can persuade our community leaders that this is serious, we may be able to devise ordinances that, while not banning sand mines outright, at least make our area less of an easy target for plunder. Another step is to write to your legislators and let them know your opposition to the Tiffany Bill … this was a bill set up to take away local control of mining regulations. It’s defeated (for now), but it will most certainly be reintroduced at a future time or (more diabolically) hidden inside the next state budget. If we pay attention and are vocal, it won’t happen.

And finally, talk to your neighbors. The mining interests have gotten as far as they have through secrecy … no one knows who has signed and who hasn’t. That pits neighbor against neighbor. We don’t want anyone to sign because they think everyone else has (so they should hurry up and take what they can get). It’s not as bleak as all that. In fact, a group of us have started getting together regularly to discuss developments and talk to other communities who have already been through this. Most of all we want to get the word out there that is going on.

The beautiful rolling hills of Colfax mean more to us than the worth of their silica sand.

Lisa Bragg-Hurlburt