“The sand mining study group formed by the county to research our options for regulating frac sand mining found that it’s unlikely the county even has the authority to pass a licensing ordinance without countywide zoning,” said Pete Flesch, Chairman of the Crawford County Board.
However, that doesn’t mean the there are no options for mitigating the impact frac sand mining could have on the area. What the study group found is that the power to create ordinances to regulate the industry very certainly does reside with the individual townships and villages. So the study committee created a draft ordinance that will go through legal review and then be given to each township and village in the county. The municipalities will then have the choice of adopting the draft ordinance or not.
“A number of townships, villages, and citizens expressed the desire to have regulations in place,” Flesch said. “The advantage of this approach is it creates some relative uniformity in the response and hopefully makes responding to this less challenging for the towns and villages who don’t have the fulltime staff to work through this on their own.”
“As we researched this, we found there is no legal precedent that gives the county power to pass this sort of legislation when there is not countywide zoning,” explained Dave Troester, the Crawford County Conservationist. “But the power for townships and villages to do so has been justified in court.”
The study group came to the conclusion that if the county attempted to create and implement the regulations, they would fall into a legal grey area that would almost certainly result in legal challenges. However, the committee believes that towns and villages would not face those same challenges since courts have already passed decisions supporting their right to pass ordinances regulating industry and its impacts on resources.
With the moratorium ending on October 17, the study group and county staff are working hard to get the draft out as soon as possible. The study group made final revisions to the wording of the draft on August 8. Next, the document will undergo legal review by county counsel. Then, Troester will begin to contact individual towns and villages to see when they are available to go over the document.
“We want to get this into their hands as soon as we can,” Troester said. “I would like to meet in small groups of maybe six or so or else go to the town or village to make sure everyone understands the document and has their questions answered.”
The draft included language that makes the permit applicants responsible for any costs of administering ordinances passed by towns and villages. That includes not only the cost of engineering work and consultants, but also the use of county personnel.
“We are making the Land Conservation staff available to help the municipalities administer the ordinances they choose to pass” Flesch said. “And as long as they maintain the language that makes the applicant responsible, they won’t end up paying to administer the regulations.”
Much of the wording is drawn from ordinances in Howard and Auburn counties. The legislation was recommended by the Wisconsin Towns Association as some of the most effective to date.
“We didn’t discuss the merits of frac sand mining, we looked at how to mitigate the problems associated with it,” Flesch said. “There are enough people dealing with this that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
“Frac sand mining is going to happen, we don’t have the power to stop it,” Flesch said. “What we can do is regulate it reasonably. If you make the regulations extreme, those being regulated go to the state legislators and the ability to regulate locally is lost.”