Wisconsin Natural Resources Board approves strategic study of frac sand mining

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MADISON — The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board has given the go-ahead for the state Department of Natural Resources to conduct a strategic analysis of industrial frac sand mining.

The NRB approved the recommendation from the DNR at the board’s January 28 meeting on a unanimous vote.

The DNR made the recommendation to the Natural Resources Board on January 12 as the result of a petition signed by more than 1,000 West Central Wisconsin residents submitted to the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board last fall.

Midwest Environmental Advocates drafted the 29-page document, “Petition for a Strategic Analysis of Frac Sand Mining,” which contains a number of technical references and citations and argues that the state Department of Natural Resources must gather and use scientific information to adequately regulate the frac sand industry to protect the health, safety and welfare of Wisconsin residents.

Representatives of MEA presented the petition in September to a group of about 60 people who gathered at the Howard Town Hall.

The Natural Resources Board asked DNR staff to respond to the petition in October.

The DNR will seek public comment and will update a 2012 report as part of a broader strategic analysis on industrial sand mining, according to a news release from the DNR dated January 28.

The DNR will seek public input on the topics that should be addressed in the report, and the analysis process includes a public comment period and a review of a draft of the report before it is presented to the Natural Resources Board.

DNR staff members reported to the Natural Resources Board at the January 28 meeting that they plan to ask for public comment on the scope of the analysis in February and March.

Once the scope of the strategic analysis has been determined, the DNR will establish a timeline for completing the analysis, according to the news release.

Preston D. Cole, director of operations for the City of Milwaukee Department of Public Works, serves as the chair of the NRB.

Terry Hilgenberg, president of the Coldwell Bankers Hilgenberg Realtors, serves as the vice-chair of the board.

Gregory Kazmierski, president and owner of Buckrub Outfitters Ltd., serves as secretary of the NRB.

The following directors also serve on the Natural Resources Board: William Bruins, owner and operator of Homeland Dairy; Christine L. Thomas, dean and professor of resource management at the U.W. Steven’s Point College of Natural Resources; Jane Wiley, community conservation activist retired from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction; and Gary Zimmer, coordinating biologist for the Ruffed Grouse Society.

Five years ago, a handful of frac sand mines were operating in this area of the state, but the number has now increased to over one hundred sand mines.

Although initial reports indicated that a proposed frac sand mine in the Town of Howard would be 2,000 acres, Vernon Schindler, chair of the Town of Howard, now reports that the proposed sand mine would be between 500 and 600 acres.

The Town of Howard’s mine licensing ordinance requires any companies proposing to operate a frac sand mine in the township to obtain all state and local permits before approaching the Howard Town Board for a mining license.

To date, no application for the proposed sand mine has been submitted to the Town of Howard.

The Chippewa County Board of Supervisors and the Dunn County Board of Supervisors both approved resolutions at their January meetings in support of the strategic analysis of industrial frac sand mining.