The proposed frac sand mine in Bridgeport Township again dominated the discussion at the most recent Lower Wisconsin Riverway Board meeting held Thursday, June 13 in a rural cabin near Prairie du Sac.
Riverway Board member George Arimond began the discussion by commenting on the recent river tour by boat of the proposed sand mine site. Arimond noted the mining activity’s visibility from the river should provide a rather objective standard to use in considering the issuance of the requested permits.
However, board chairperson Donald Greenwood said differences in how the standard is applied might make it less objective than it might initially seem. The chairperson referred to the “visible from the river during leaf-on conditions” as a “floating standard.”
Lower Wisconsin Riverway Board Executive Director Mark Cupp explained he would be ready to present his mapping product overlaid with the recent completed mining phase mapping. Cupp suggested during the discussion that the board might want to use the July meeting to digest the report and map and make a decision on issuing the permits at another meeting.
Greenwood stated the applicants may also need time to digest the material and the board will want to see what it will need in terms of further discussion with the applicants.
Cupp suggested that a public comment session be included with a special board meeting to address the decision on the issuing permits for the sand mine. Greenwood and other board members agreed that the importance of the decision on whether to issue permits for the frac sand mine justified holding a special meeting to consider the issue.
Board member Ron Leys requested that a special meeting to consider granting permits for the proposed frac sand mine in Bridgeport Township be held in Crawford County, perhaps at the Crawford County Administration Building. Leys proposed structuring the meeting to include a public comment session to be followed by a special board meeting to make the decision on frac sand mine permits.
Greenwood said he wasn’t sure if such a meeting would be held in July or August. The board chairperson believes that regardless of the board’s decision the matter will head to the court system.
“I think we can count on being taken to court on this matter,” Greenwood said. The chairperson believes the side not favored by the board’s decision, either the landowners and Pattison Sand Company or the proposed sand mine’s opponents, will appeal the decision in the courts.
Board member David Martin said he favored moving the desicion along. Martin said moving the process forward was important, so the board did not look like they were obstructing the process. The board member said he believes the importance of the matter justified having a special board meeting to consider issuing the permits–maybe even two meetings.
“This is so important,” Martin said at one point. “This is one of the most important things the board has had to face in years.”
Board member Gerald Dorscheid, the chairperson of the operations committee, explained that since the board had reached a decision on how to proceed with the mining permit requests, there was no need to further discuss the permits at this meeting. Although an agenda item for this meeting, the matter of making a decision on the non-metallic mine permits would remain on the table for future action.
Attorney Dorothy Stroschein, representing the Pattison Sand Company, was the first to speak during the public comment portion of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway Board meeting. The lawyer asked that the state employee from the UW Cartography Department, who was responsible for producing maps about the visibility of the mine operation from the river, discuss the situation with the surveyor, employed by Pattison Sand Company, to find areas of agreement in their work.
Cupp, the Riverway Board Executive Director, explained that Pattison had requested in a letter to the board-employed UW cartographer that he sign a document stipulating certain points of agreement with the surveyor’s work about the visibility of the operation during leaf-on conditions. The cartographer declined to sign the document since he was employed by the board to do the work, according to Cupp.
Cupp also indicated that since completing the work the agreement under which the cartographer was employed has been closed out and to require any further work of him would require the creation of a new contract.
Cupp reiterated that he is ready to put the visibility results on the mining phase maps.
The Pattison attorney claimed that what would be visible in the maps are actually more distant treetops.
At another point, Stroschein suggested that landowners create more farm fields on sites that will eventually be mined for sand and by so doing might avoid scrutiny for the visibility issue. She reminded the board that as farmers the landowners have the right to create farm fields.
Greenwood said it sounded like “an end run” around the visibility issue.
The attorney noted the plan calls for mined sites to be reclaimed as farm fields in five to ten-acre increments.
Cupp summarized the idea forwarded by the attorney as starting with farm fields, mining the area and then returning to farm fields.
“It sounds like you’re preparing an argument and we’re not the ones that are going to be considering it,” Greenwood said of the attorney’s farm fields idea.
Stroschein insisted that the purpose she came before the board was to try and reconcile the work of cartographer with the work done by the surveyor hired by Pattison Sand so that “we can be on the same page.”
Greenwood concluded by reminding the attorney that it would ultimately be the board that would decide on issuing the permits.
Board member George Arimond suggested to Mark Cupp that it might be helpful to have the surveyor and cartographer present when he makes his presentation.
Following the attorney’s presentation, Bridgeport Township resident Jean Bula addressed the board. She state that she lives in a residence less than a mile from the proposed sand mine and was trying to sell the house. She explained that four couples had shown interest in the house, but ultimately did not purchase it when they found out about the proposed sand mine. One couple even approached a bank to get a loan for the purchase, but the loan was denied because of the sand mine, according to Bula.
The local resident noted that the board had talked at length about the visual impact of the operation, but seemed to not be considering the noise impact, the effect on wildlife in the Riverway, the impact of traffic and more.
“We worry about those things too,” Greenwood replied. However, he explained that it was the visual impact that the Lower Wisconsin Riverway Board was legally bound to consider, not the other impacts. The board chairperson said that the township should have considered many of the other things Buela brought up.
In other business, the Lower Wisconsin Riverway Board:
• approved a timber harvest in the Riverway near the House on the Rock and House on the Rock Resort in the Town of Wyoming in Iowa County
• approved permits issued by Cupp for timber harvests by Kieler in the Town of Buena Vista in Richland County and by Gies in the Town of Clyde in Iowa County
• approved permits issued by Cupp for DNR timber harvests at several locations
• elected the following officers Don Greenwood-chairperson, Fred Madison-vice chairperson, Melody Moore, secretary
• heard a report that the reclassification of the board’s office associate to a professional position was rejected by a state official looking into the matter