By DAVID KRIER
Eight months after tabling a permit application from the Pattison Sand Company for a frac sand mine east of Bridgeport, the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board denied the permit during a special meeting last Thursday in Prairie du Chien. The vote to deny was 6-2, sending a standing-room-only crowd at the Crawford County Administration Building into raucous applause.
“I feel my mission is to take care of the river, first and foremost,” said board member Melody Moore in voting against permitting the 300-acre mine, about 60 of which are within the Riverway boundary. “This industry did not exist when the Riverway law was written. I think if it was it would not have been permitted. (The mine) has already been approved by the town of Bridgeport and this is only a very small portion of it.”
The vote came after over three hours of public comment from nearly 60 people, only two speaking in favor of the mine. Also giving testimony in front of the board was the environmental group Crawford Stewardship Project and Pattison Sand Company representatives, as well as the four affected landowners. They include Rod and Sandy Marfilius, Lee and Joan Pulda, Earl and Amber Pulda, and Alan and Kathy Flansburgh.
Among those speaking against the mine were several Bagley residents who live across the Mississippi River from an operating Pattison frac sand mine in Clayton County, Iowa. They provided photographs of clouds of silica sand dust rising from the mine site during blasting operations.
“I’m really concerned about the health of the people of Bagley,” said former Boscobel resident Ardith Stark. “We deal with dust issues every day from the Pattison mine across the river.”
Others voiced concerns with loss of eagle habitat and tourism dollars, as well as surface water runoff from the mine. Potential dust and lighting from the mine proved to be major issues in the minds of board members voting to deny the mine permit.
According to the Riverway statute regarding nonmetallic mining, 30.44(3e), “The excavation for the nonmetallic mining activity may not be visible from the river when the leaves are on the deciduous trees.”
Richland County representative Dave Martin of the board explained his no vote by saying, “It says nonmetallic mining activity, activity being the key word. Fugitive dust is an activity. Lighting is an activity. It’s important the board consider these things.”
“I am going to vote against this because I believe this mine would be visible from the river,” added Board Chair Don Greenwood of Sauk County. “The way the (Riverway law) is now is a mistake, an oversight, and we will work to correct that.”
Earlier in the meeting Executive Director Mark Cupp had recommended approving the permit “with a heavy heart but a clear conscience,” citing current regulations. However, he said that despite being disappointed that the board did not accept his recommendation he said he would “respect it and will support it going forward.”
There is no appeal process to Riverway board decisions and Pattison has not said whether it will fight the decision in court, but the company’s attorney, Peter Conrad, said the law is clear.
“The legislature passed a set of duties that the board has to follow,” Conrad said. “Noise, dust and traffic are not included, only visual sight. The laws are very clear. Pattison meets the statutory criteria and this board has a duty to uphold them.”
Two-thirds of the board interpreted the law differently. When asked by Greenwood if anyone had been pressured by Governor Walker or members of the legislature to vote one way or the other, Cupp said, “I’ve had absolutely no political pressure from the governor’s office or legislators regarding these permits.”
Pattison plans on beginning work on the portion of the mine not within the Riverway boundary this week, starting with construction of an access road from the mine site to Highway 60. When operating at full capacity, the mine will be sending an estimated 250, 40-ton trucks a day onto Highway 60. They will travel between the mine site five miles east of Wyalusing State Park and a sorting and cleaning facility in Prairie du Chien.
According to documents submitted to the DNR, Pattison plans on removing nearly four million tons per year of limestone from the mine each year, as well as 500,000 tons of sandstone. However, those estimates included land within the Riverway boundary and will change if the board’s decision stands.
“There is absolutely nothing gained for the Riverway by this mine,” said Edie Ehlert, co-coordinator of the Crawford Stewardship Project, which last week filed suit in Crawford County Circuit Court to stop the mine in its entirety.