The Wisconsin Farmers Union and Wisconsin Towns Association sponsored an all day meeting on sand mining on December 1 near Eau Claire. A repeat is scheduled for January 12, 2012.
See the Wisconsin Towns Association website, http://wisctowns.com/, which is highly recommended reading for all local officials and citizens. Included are example ordinances and permits. We were reminded that township and county officials carry the responsibility of the health and safety of their constituents and that mining companies are targeting unpermitted locations.
Eau Claire County has passed a moratorium to give the county and the townships six months to decide their zoning and/or permitting processes. The ordinance is available online at http://www.co.eau-claire.wi.us/nonmetallic_mining_moratorium.htm.
I spoke with a Trempealeau Township resident about his visit to the Wind Bay sand mine in Trempealeau County. As he was driving with his arm out the window, he quickly became aware of intense “pin pricks” constantly on his arm. He could only conclude that these were such tiny silica particles as to not be visible by sight, as the air was clear. These particles lodge in our lungs and years later can cause silicosis and lung cancer. He is highly concerned about health of neighbors.
When the DNR representative, Thomas Woletz, was questioned about monitoring and enforcement of any DNR rules, he admitted that the DNR has little money and staff to follow up on sand mines. High capacity well water use plus the inclusion of chemicals in the water used are concerns to neighbors.
Property values around sand mine sites automatically drop, according to Ron Koshoshek, a Howard Township official and Professor Emeritus, UW Eau Claire, with a 30-percent drop within ¼ mile, 20-percent within ½ mile, 15-percent within a mile, and 9-percent within 5 miles.
A “Petition by Citizens for the Promulgation of Rules to Govern Respirable Crystalline Silica Emissions” has been put forward to the DNR, requesting “inclusion of silica as a hazardous air contaminant” and “setting limits at least as stringent as 3 micrograms per cubic meter with a time period of annual”. The petition was signed my 80 health professionals in the Chippewa Valley area.
Countywide moratoriums are a good way to give townships time to weigh the advantages of 30 jobs versus concerns of health, land use, and quality of life of residents.