Local legislators are expressing concern over proposed legislation, which would limit local governments ability to impose conditions on non-metallic mining operations.
The draft legislation, being circulated for cosponsors by Wisconsin State Senator Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) and State Representative Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan) would greatly limit local governments’ power to regulate the rapidly expanding frac sand mining industry.
Neither Wisconsin State Senator Jennifer Shilling (D-LaCrosse) nor State Representative Lee Nerison (R-Westby) plan to sign on as co-sponsors.
Both legislators expressed concern over the speed at which the bill’s authors are attempting to move it through the legislative process and both expressed concern over its impact on local control, particularly for towns and villages without zoning ordinances.
“Local governments take pride in protecting their health and land,” Shilling said. “It is not in our interest to interfere with local regulation at this time of increased mining pressures.”
Nerison plans to keep an eye on the draft bill, saying he has many unanswered questions.
“I want to know what the intent of this bill is,” Nerison said.
Both legislators report receiving many calls urging them to not co-sign the bill and to protect local control.
The bill could go to Senator Tiffany’s committee as early as this week, according to Shilling.
“There is an effort to move this along quickly and it could be before the Committee on Workforce Development, Forestry, Mining, and Revenue this week,” explained Shilling. “The last possible fall session for it to be voted on by the Senate and Assembly is in Mid-November.”
Crawford County Chairperson Pete Flesch noted that much of western rural Wisconsin is not zoned, so the area stands to be heavily impacted by the bill should it come to a vote and pass.
“I think it’s bad legislation,” Flesch said. “It claims there is a patchwork of ordinances, but there is a lot of consistency in what we have here in Crawford County.”
Flesch noted the extensive effort and shared resources used by the county and municipalities to create mining ordinances that would protect the area and its unique geography.
“Ordinances need to take into account the very real differences in geography were these operations occur,” Flesch continued.
Shilling noted the bill would actually restrict local regulation in relation to air and water quality by limiting enacted zoning or nonmetallic mining ordinances to being no higher than the state standard, while current law sets the standard as the lowest criteria local regulation must meet.
“The Republican Party is supposed to be the party of local control, but this takes that away from local government,” Shilling noted.
Flesch expressed much the same sentiment, noting it follows a string of similar legislative actions attempting to reduce local control. He pointed to laws restricting locally created mining moratoriums and housing ordinances relating to tenant rights, as well as fair business practices for landlords.
“This bill generally prohibits a county, city, village, town, county utility district, town sanitary district, public inland lake protection and rehabilitation district, or metropolitan sewage district (all local governmental units) from establishing or enforcing a standard of water quality; issuing permits related to water quality or quantity; imposing restrictions related to water quality or quantity; or requiring monitoring of water quality or quantity,” according to an analysis by the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau.
Additional restrictions reduce local government authority over roads, traffic, and the use of explosives.