The frac sand mine controversy in Bridgeport Township has a new development.
Last week, a group of residents began circulating petitions seeking the recall of Bridgeport Township Chairperson John Karnopp and Bridgeport Township Supervisor Mike Steiner.
Karnopp and Steiner, as members of the three-person township board, voted to approve a permit for an open-pit frac sand mine. As proposed, the mine will be operated by the Iowa-based Pattison Sand Company on land leased from four landowners. The site of the proposed mine is located adjacent to the Wisconsin River and south of Highway 60.
Last year, the proposed frac sand mine faced widespread opposition at both meetings of the Bridgeport Town Board and the Lower Wisconsin Riverway Board. After considerable deliberation, the LWRB denied issuing a permit for the mine to operate within the Lower Wisconsin Riverway boundaries.
The Town of Bridgeport, on the other hand, agreed to issue a permit for the frac sand mine operation as proposed by Pattison Sand Company and the four landowners from whom they would lease land.
However, opposition to siting the frac sand mine in Bridgeport remains steadfast. Opponents, including some neighboring landowners and the Crawford County Stewardship Project, have brought a lawsuit in Crawford County Circuit Court alleging a conflict of interest on the part of town officials, procedural mistakes in meetings and more. That lawsuit seeks to have the frac sand mine permitting decision reconsidered.
The recall petition currently circulating in Bridgeport Township is an outgrowth of the frac sand mine opponents’ efforts to reverse the decision.
“Over the last two years, many local residents, farmers, property owners and taxpayers have expressed concern over locating an open pit frac sand mine in the Town of Bridgeport,” those organizing the recall drive wrote in a news release explaining their efforts last week. “Residents have shared their legitimate concerns with elected officials at town hall meetings, public forums and through a circulated petition to no avail.”
As might be expected, one the subjects of the recall, Bridgeport Township Supervisor Mike Steiner, has a rather different view of the situation.
“It’s America. You can do what you want,” Steiner said of the recall effort against Karnopp and him.
Steiner believes the issue was discussed more than enough times at township board meetings—noting that the issue was considered for six to eight months. He also believes the town board has “better things to do” and more issues that need to be addressed.
“The election turned out not quite the way they hoped it would so maybe they can change it,” Steiner said.
In the 2013 spring election, Bridgeport Concerned Citizens, a group opposed to the frac sand mine, ran three candidates for the town board and one was elected. Incumbents Karnopp and Steiner were re-elected, as was Rodney Fishler, a frac sand mine opponent. Rod Marfilius, an incumbent township supervisor and owner of land to be leased for the mine, was not re-elected. Bridgeport Concerned Citizen Candidate Arnie Steele running for township chairman against Karnopp, was also not elected.
The results of the spring elections for the Bridgeport Town Board were:
John Karnopp 239
Arnie Steele 205
Mike Steiner 300*
Rodney Fishler 205*
Rod Marfilius 187
Alan Flansburg 102
(*top two elected)
Despite Mike Steiner’s explanation of the town board’s decision on issuing the frac sand mine permit, Bridgeport resident Loren Fishler remains frustrated with the meetings and the board’s actions.
“Our voices are being ignored,” the local beef and dairy farmer said. “Elected officials should listen to the people who voted them in and they should make decisions based on the best interest of everyone in the community.”
Steiner defended the decision to approve the mine permit saying he believed the operation would promote growth and create jobs. He also noted that Highway 60, which will be used by the many trucks hauling sand from the site, 24 hours per day—every day of the year, is a state highway and the township has no control over its use.
“If it were a township road that might be another thing,” Steiner said of the township’s authority in regulating frac sand mine traffic.
Mark Fishler, Loren’s son, took issue with the idea that the board had given the matter a fair hearing and made a just decision.
“Our town board needs to operate in a more transparent manner,” Mark Fishler said. “When the vote came up for the sand mine, the town officials did not allow discussion with the public. Based on the elected officials’ comments, it appears that they lack knowledge and understanding of how frac sand mining works.
“In their hurry to get the mine approved, they did not follow their own procedures and failed to address how the proposed mine will decrease residential property values,” Mark Fishler said.
Another Bridgeport resident and property owner, Sheila Linder, is also worried about the frac sand mine’s impact on property values.
“My biggest concern with the frac sand mine is the impact on local property values,” Sheila Linder said.
For his part, Steiner rejected the idea of decreasing property values. He noted that property values are often affected by changes. He pointed to the fact that his residence is located across from a Waste Management facility and near the new Prairie du Chien Memorial Hospital.
Whether or not the petition drive succeeds in forcing a recall election of Karnopp and Steiner and ultimately replacing them on the town board, it is definitely making very clear the differences between the opponents of the frac sand mine and the incumbent board members, who approved the permit to allow it.
“Destroying the God-given pristine farmland of the Driftless Region, that has some of the highest quality soil in the area in order to ‘farm sand’ for the next 60 years will change the face of our region,” Loren Fishler said.
“If the taxpayers want me out, go for it,” was Bridgeport Township Supervisor Mike Steiner’s final comment on the recall effort.
John Karnopp, the other subject of the recall effort, could not be reached for comment.
For her part, Bridgeport Township Clerk Linda Smrcina confirmed the township had received notification of the resident’s intent to file a petition of recall of Bridgeport Township Supervisor Mike Steiner and Bridgeport Township Chairman John Karnopp.
Smrcina said the petition would be required to have 97 signatures of Bridgeport residents of voting age. The 97 votes represent 25 percent of the township voters who voted in the 2012 gubernatorial election. The other requirement is that those being recalled have served at least one year in office. After the petitions are filed, the township has 30 days to review the signatures to ascertain they are valid. Then, the town board must work within a time limit to meet and set a date for a recall election, according to the township clerk.
Smrcina noted the recall election, if required, would come at a cost to the township.
“It’s not cheap to hold an election,” Smrcina said “Once again, taxpayers are getting hit with the price of this election.”
The clerk estimated the cost of the election to be about $1,000 ranging upward toward $2,000 or even $2,500 depending how many voters there were.