By LeAnn R. Ralph
TOWN OF HOWARD — Residents in this area of the state plan to submit a petition to the Natural Resources Board for a comprehensive study of the impacts of frac sand mining on public health and the environment.
Recent changes to the Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act approved by Governor Scott Walker on August 27 narrow the rights of citizens to petition the government for an environmental analysis, according to a news release from Midwest Environmental Advocates dated September 10.
The petition will ask the NRB to direct the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to analyze the impact of frac sand mining on the health of those living in the area as well as impacts on water quality, air and land.
“We believe that citizens have the right to ask for — and the Natural Resources Board has the power to require the DNR to conduct — a strategic analysis, or an in-depth study of frac sand mining’s impacts,” said Ken Schmitt of Colfax who farms in the Town of Howard in Chippewa County.
Chippewa County has ten frac sand mines east and northeast of the Village of Colfax.
Following heavy rain on September 3, runoff from the Dennis Schindler mine in the Town of Cooks Valley filled 18 Mile Creek with caramel-colored sediment that was still flowing more than a week later.
A plume of sediment was easily visible from the state Highway 40 bridge in Colfax where 18 Mile Creek empties into the Red Cedar River.
“We also have a right to have our water free of sediment, our air free of dust that causes cancer and silicosis, and our own property investments protected,” Schmitt said.
“Without a look at the big picture, our state government isn’t taking the total impact of this industry into consideration. We need a deeper look into how our water, air, safe roads, property rights and values, and the long-term viability of our region’s economy may be at risk,” he said.
Changes to Natural Resources Rule 150 (NR150) remove environmental analyses and instead presume that the DNR’s existing regulations will provide sufficient analysis of the environmental impact of a proposed project.
Permits no longer required to have an environmental assessment include water pollution permits for large concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs); high capacity wells; and air pollution permits, according to the Midwest Environmental Advocates’ website.
Eliminating the environmental assessments reduces opportunities for the public to comment on impacts the DNR considered or failed to consider, MEA’s website notes.
“The right of citizens to petition their government matters, especially when they have real concerns about whether their water and air is at risk,” said Sarah Williams, a staff attorney for Midwest Environmental Advocates.
“When elected officials listen to powerful industries rather than the people of Wisconsin, citizens have to take action to get information and demand protections for their health,” she said.
Under the revisions to the Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act, the NRB can direct the DNR to conduct an analysis of the impacts of an industry on the environment.
A meeting is scheduled for Thursday, September 18, at 7:30 p.m. at the Howard Town Hall for representatives of Midwest Environmental Advocates to explain the petition to the NRB asking for a study of frac sand mining.
The Howard Town Hall is located on county Highway B about seven miles east of Colfax off of state Highway 40.