Concerns are being raised about how Town of Bridgeport officials are handling a proposed 178-acre frac sand mine application. Bridgeport Concerned Citizens, a group of area residents, has begun circulating a petition asking that permitting of frac sand mining go to a referendum and for the township to post agendas a week in advance. Meanwhile, Crawford Stewardship Project, a local environmental group, has sought a legal opinion on the process.
“We began collecting signatures about two weeks ago and already have almost two hundred signatures,” said Arnie Steele, a member of Bridgeport Concerned Citizens.
“I didn’t hear about the mine until around Nov. 4.,” said Steele who feels that Bridgeport officials have not acted transparently about the issue. “They are posting meetings about 24 hours before the meeting; people aren’t hearing about them in time. And, it seems like there must have been four to six months of planning before this even came to the table to be discussed.”
Steele said nearly everyone he has spoken to is opposed to the mine.
“The few I have spoken to in favor of the mine are very strongly for it,” Steele said. “And, they have a personal interest, a financial interest either through themselves, a relative or friend.”
Steele said the amount of information relating to the frac sand mining is vast and can feel overwhelming.
“I don’t see how anyone can ignore what the public has to say,” Steele said. Steele is concerned that the Bridgeport Township Board is listening selectively to what certain citizens want.
Another local group, Crawford Stewardship Project (CSP) sought independent legal opinion on the conditional use permit (CUP) application submitted by Pattison Sand of Clayton, Iowa, for the proposed Bridgeport frac sand mine.
“CSP hired Attorney Glenn Stoddard of Eau Claire who has represented many towns, counties and citizens groups regarding the regulation of frac sand mining”, stated Edie Ehlert, Co-Coordinator of Crawford Stewardship Project. “We strongly feel that this application does not address the many issues and concerns expressed by citizens surrounding this proposed mine, and it fails to protect the health, welfare and quality of life of area residents”.
Stoddard’s recommendation after reading the conditional use permit application was denial. The attorney noted the application improperly requests a variance from the township’s zoning ordinance and failed to meet 15 purposes outlined in the town’s zoning requirements.
“Therefore, for all the reasons set forth above, Pattison Sand Company, LLC’s CUP application must be denied by the Town of Bridgeport Plan Commission, because its proposed frac sand mining operations would be contrary to § 6.05 of the Town of Bridgeport Zoning Ordinance,” Stoddard wrote.
“If Plan commission members are biased in favor of Pattison Sand Company, LLC in this matter (or otherwise not impartial), they may not vote on the CUP application under Wisconsin law, because the review and possible approval or denial of a zoning CUP is a quasi-judicial action which requires impartiality on the part of the decision-makers,” Stoddard also stated in his written opinion.
Concerns of the appearance of bias and possible improper action were also raised in response to a Nov. 30 visit to Pattison’s frac sand mining operation near Boscobel by members of the Bridgeport Plan Commission and a Bridgeport Township Board Supervisor.
“The surprising thing to me was that the Bridgeport officials carpooled in two cars with Pattison representatives,” said Roger Reynolds, a member of Friends of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway. “Pattison’s Beth Regan drove one car with two Bridgeport officials and Ryan Stram, the planning commission chairman, drove the other vehicle with Kyle Pattison and a Bridgeport official.”
Bridgeport Plan Commission members Lowell Ahrens, Ryan Stram, and Ed Linder, as well as Town of Bridgeport Chairperson John Karnopp were the officials who toured the mine, located in Marian Township in Grant County.
Reynolds said he was one of three citizens to attend the meeting and that he finally asked for officials to stay together as the group separated several times during the tour.
“I reminded them that this was a government meeting,” Reynolds said. “If officials are discussing this away from the group, they’re conducting public business without transparency. John Karnopp responded with ‘We don’t have a walking quorum.’ But, they did stay together after that.”
Reynolds also expressed concern that the officials asked few questions and those they did ask were about the rock formations and geology of the site, not the impacts of mining. Nor, said Reynolds, did they seek to speak to neighbors of the mine to see how it was affecting them.
Planning commission member Lowell Ahren said later that Karnopp was involved in the planning of the trip.
Ahrens was unsure whether the mine near Boscobel was comparable in size; though he noted it was the same style of mining, strip mining, proposed in Bridgeport.
“We had the Marian Town Chairman at the last meeting to speak about the impacts of the mine,” Ahrens said. “He said they had no problems with the mine.”
Ahrens was unsure if any neighbors to the mine had been contacted to determine the impact the mine had on them. He also was unaware of the scope of the independent study of the sand mine being conducted by the township.
“I just read about it (the study) in the Courier Press,” Ahrens said.
Stram and Karnopp had not returned phone calls at the time this story went to press.