Town of Colfax starts 9-month sand mining moratorium

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX — A nine-month moratorium on non-metallic mining in the Town of Colfax has now gone into effect as of the moratorium’s January 14 publication date.

Gary Bjork, town board supervisor and county board supervisor from Colfax, spoke about the mining moratorium at the Dunn County Planning, Resources and Development Committee meeting January 13.

Bjork also is a member of the PR&D committee.

The Colfax Town Board approved a moratorium on non-metallic mining several weeks ago after Gary Klukas, town chair, received a telephone call from an attorney pertaining to 800 acres under contract for frac sand mining and questions related to the township’s zoning, Bjork said.

The Town of Colfax is currently working on approving a mine licensing ordinance, he said.

The Colfax Town Board has opted into county zoning and is covered by the Dunn County comprehensive zoning code.

“We imposed a moratorium to allow enough time to get the licensing ordinance in place,” Bjork said.

The Town of Colfax began working on a mine licensing ordinance after a company had proposed to develop a 2,000 acre frac sand mine in the Town of Howard in Chippewa County.

The proposed mine would be directly across the road from some Town of Colfax residents, and while the Town of Howard has a mine licensing ordinance, the Town of Colfax did not.

“We’ve been in the process (of working on the licensing ordinance) since last August,” Bjork said.

The Town of Grant north of the village of Colfax also is working on a mine licensing ordinance, he said.

Two years ago, a rezone was approved by the Town of Grant and Dunn County to allow a house to be separated from attached acreage and sold separately, Bjork noted.

The property owner did not sell the mineral rights to that property at the time, but now, the mineral rights to the Town of Grant property have reportedly been sold for $1 million, Bjork said.

The Town of Grant is zoned Intensive Agriculture, and mining is not allowed on property zoned Intensive Agriculture, he noted.

A frac sand mine could be developed in the Town of Grant if the property owners asked for and received a rezone to industrial and a rezone to the mining overlay district, said Bob Colson, Dunn County planner and the Dunn County zoning administrator.

Under state law, town boards have veto power over rezones, Bjork noted.

“If it is true that the mineral rights have been sold for $1 million, it gives you an idea of the kind of money involved (with frac sand mining),” he said.

Mineral rights are done by property deed in Wisconsin, so the Dunn County register of deeds would be able to confirm if the mineral rights had been sold for that property, said Bob Walter, chair of the PR&D committee.

The Colfax Town Board approved the nine-month moratorium on non-metallic mining January 5.

The moratorium in the Town of Colfax went into effect when the notice was published in the Colfax Messenger in the January 14 edition.

Zoning amendments

The PR&D committee is working on text amendments for the comprehensive zoning code adopted by the Dunn County Board in October of 2013.

During the January 13 PR&D committee meeting, several people talked about additional amendments that the committee might want to consider.

Frank Bammert, chair of the Town of Menomonie, pointed out that in Residential-1 zoning, which can have lots anywhere from one acre in size up to ten acres, only chickens and bees are allowed.

The current zoning means that someone who owns a couple of acres would be unable to have a horse or a cow or pigs or any type of farm animal, Bammert noted.

“I think we missed the boat,” he said.

Under the current zoning code, to have a few farm animals, property owners would need to get a rezone to agriculture, Bammert said.

Walter said that the PR&D committee is planning on at least three more rounds of amendments to the county’s zoning code, and the issue of horses and farm animals would be added to the list.

“I think it will be better for everybody,” Bammert said.

Colson said that as zoning administrator, he has been dealing with more issues pertaining to horses rather than to farm animals in general.

Agritourism

Agritourism and the “repurposing” of farm buildings also is a concern with regard to the county’s zoning code.

John Govin spoke to the PR&D committee about a farm property he had purchased and said he wanted to use one of the farm buildings as a wedding venue.

Using a farm building for a commercial venture in an agricultural district is not allowed under the current zoning code.

Walter noted that Govin has had the discussion about the wedding venue several times with PR& committee members.

Walter said he thought the PR&D committee would be able to take up the discussion of agritourism and repurposing farm buildings in March.

Colson said he has been doing research on agritourism and said it is likely the discussion would be lengthy.

Shoreland zoning

The PR&D committee will be obliged to take up the county’s shoreland zoning ordinance again, Walter said.

The state has made two changes to shoreland zoning regarding nonconforming uses and impervious surfaces, he said.

Dunn County will have to update its shoreland zoning ordinance to reflect the changes made by the state, he said.

The new state requirements go into effect July 1, and Dunn County must have the two amendments approved and published prior to July 1, Walter said.

Zoning office staff members are working on the amendments now, Colson said.