Despite the ridiculously short timeline we were given to understand and prepare ourselves for this newest assault by the State Legislature on local control, Forest Jahnke and Edie Ehlert drove to Madison to testify in front of both the Senate Committee on Workforce Development, Forestry, Mining, and Revenue and the Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economy and Mining. No doubt the speed at which this bill is being pushed forward has something to do with how effectively we fended off SB 349, and Senator Tiffany and the industry may have been hoping this time there would be no public to deal with. However, well over 30 concerned citizens spoke out powerfully in opposition to the bills, once again outnumbering those in favor representing the industry. Again, all who spoke for the bills had financial ties to the industry, while those who spoke out against came from a place of deep love and concern for the land and their fellow citizens. We are sorry more of you couldn’t make it out this time. We can only hope our comments will be heeded once again and that our local governments will be allowed to continue protecting the health, safety, and well-being of the communities they represent and are part of. We have already made great strides with the Towns Association, which was initially neutral on this legislation, has now unanimously voted to switch to opposing the bills! Thanks to all who contacted their local representatives and thanks to all who came out Monday to speak their truth!
Thanks to Wisconsin Eye, you can access the entire hearing here (those of us who are neither government officials nor industry representatives are at the tail end of things):
Let’s keep the pressure up!
Our comments are below:
We are disappointed to find ourselves back so soon to, once again, defend our rights to implement common-sense ordinances to protect the safety, health, and well-being of communities from the worst impacts of industrial silica sand operations. Crawford Stewardship Project has spent the last couple years helping our county understand and proactively deal with this new and booming industry in ways that everyone can live and work with. We fail to understand the need for the State to intervene in this slow and neighborly process as we as a community decide what the best way to move forward will be.
Crawford County spent much time, energy, and money to draft a model ordinance. The majority of our Townships adapted and adopted this ordinance. A few townships (some of which have no zoning) are still working to implement their versions of the ordinance or zoning. We have serious concerns that these ordinances will be nullified, whole or in part, by SB 632/ AB 816 and those townships currently working on or without zoning or a licensing ordinance will be left with no ability to regulate a mine that may come to town before they can put adequate protections in place.
It appears that this bill makes it possible for a small local use quarry to become a full-scale industrial silica sand mine with no additional oversight. Also, if the conditions of a sand mining operation change such as the size, intensity etc. SB 632/AB 816 effectively takes away the ability of local governments to respond with additional restrictions or regulations addressing any adverse impacts to the community.
This “grandfathering in” of existing quarries exempting them from any new regulation despite changes in their nature in conjunction with their unfettered ability to expand on contiguous land is an extremely harmful combination for communities who must live with these operations. No other industry is allowed to operate in this way, so despite assertions that local communities, “cannot discriminate against any particular business”, the State seems to clearly be playing favorites here. To quote the bill itself, “This bill does not affect a political subdivision’s ability to exercise any current law authority to enact any ordinance unrelated to nonmetallic mining to the extent that such an ordinance has no regulative effect on nonmetallic mining.” Why does the frac sand mining industry require protections above and beyond those of all other businesses? Why are local governments not allowed to implement health and safety protections for the communities they serve when it comes to frac sand mining?
Suspicions easily arise when an industry demands to be exempted from all future regulations. Is it perhaps that the industry does not like communities taking steps to mitigate the damage caused by the industry? What exactly is the reasoning behind this new legislation? It is difficult to believe that an industry that has grown so exponentially in just a handful of years (both in numbers and in profits) would have legitimate complaints that they are being overwhelmed with regulations by townships and counties. Are there statistics to back up this need or that local control is causing the industry irreparable harm or the inability to operate in a profitable manner?
Given the fast pace of this bill’s progression, there has been inadequate time for citizens and their local governments to fully examine and analyze this bill or seek thorough legal review. It appears as though transport and processing of frac sand will no longer be under the authority of local municipalities to regulate. Is this the case? If so, what is the reasoning and who will take on the mantle of regulation?
We suspect that this bill would allow sand mines to challenge ordinances that they claim prevent them from extracting sand. On what basis could this be done? What would be the legitimate reasons for the industry to eliminate basic protections for the health and welfare of the surrounding community?
An industry may not be appropriate for a community if it cannot profitably extract resources while respecting the rights of the citizens to the basic needs of clean air, potable water, and time off from disruptive loud noises, blasting, truck traffic or roaring diesel engines, and bright lights, and they cannot come to reasonable agreements with empowered local governments. The solution this bill proposes seems to be to simply dis-empower the local units of government. We question the legality and constitutionality of this, considering the 2012 Wisconsin Supreme Court decision (Zwiefelhofer v. Town of Cooks Valley) upholding the rights of local governments to regulate a frac sand mine through their police powers.
The people of Wisconsin, who have been struggling to grasp and deal with the impacts of a booming new mining industry, have not been given adequate time to read and understand these sudden proposed changes in the rules that will affect their daily lives, their children and their communities for decades to come. The process, as well as the nature of this bill, is disturbingly anti-democratic. After public outcry over SB 349, it seems this new attempt to remove local control of frac sand mines is purposefully being pushed forward at incredible speeds to avoid public comment and input.
All in all, it seems as though a specific industry is being targeted here for special and unmerited privileges at the expense of the surrounding communities. The need for these exemptions has not been demonstrated, the effects on communities have not been fully considered, and finally, the pace at which this bill is being pushed forward is irrational and irresponsible. Crawford Stewardship Project sincerely hopes the representatives of the State of Wisconsin will listen to the people who they represent and protect the rights of local governments who are doing all they can to protect the safety, health, and welfare of their citizens.
Crawford Stewardship Project