Public Lab Research note

Frac Sand Mining: The community fight

by stevie , Pat | January 21, 2016 17:52 21 Jan 17:52 | #12597 | #12597

stevie was awarded the Basic Barnstar by jorgus for their work in this research note.

This morning @Pat Popple, Public Lab Organizer from Chippewa County WI, posted a presentation in her online publication the Frac Sand Sentinel. The presentation was given by community member and landowner, Johnne Smalley, at the Chippewa County’s Land Conservation and Forestry Department’s monthly meeting.

For those who haven’t been following the frac sand issue, the first permitting for frac sand mining in Wisconsin started in late 2006 Pearson, 2015. As of December 2015, Wisconsin had 129 industrial sand mining facilities, ranging in size from 9 to 4000 acres Wisconsin DRN, 2015. Dozens of groups and thousands of people have participated in the fight against the frac sand mining industry's negative effects. Learn more about the groups involved and what they are doing on the Wisconsin page.

I’m posting Johnne Smalley’s speech to the Chippewa County’s Land Conservation and Forestry Department as an example of the incredible amount of work, collaboration and passion it takes for individuals to take on environmental injustices in their community. In this speech, Johnne highlights that it’s not just the industry that’s the problem, it’s the policies that should be in place protect our health and environment. It’s the responsibility of government to enforce policies that exist. Finally, it's the money that drives the system to protect the economic interests of industry instead of people.

Hats off to Johnne for her speech, to @Pat and all those who constantly support and share out about the fight they’ve been in for nearly 10 years:::

"My name is Johnne Smalley. I own and pay taxes on land in Wheaton Township in Chippewa County. I am here today to find out what Chippewa County envisions for its future.

I have read Chippewa County’s Comprehensive Plan, but I don’t see the county following it. Page 173, Section 6.4 states:

Goal 1 - Maintain the physical condition, biodiversity, ecology, and environmental functions of the landscape, including its capacity for flood storage, groundwater recharge, water filtration, plant growth, ecological diversity, wildlife habitat, and carbon sequestration.

Goal 2 - Maintain the capacity of the land to support productive forests and agricultural working lands to sustain food, fiber, and renewable energy production.

How many acres of land have been removed from productive forests and agricultural working lands to support frac sand mines owned by and operated for the financial benefit of people that are not from our area, often not even from our state, and sometimes, not even from our country? How have all these frac sand mines maintained the physical condition, biodiversity, ecology, and environmental functions of the landscape, including its capacity for flood storage, groundwater recharge, water filtration, plant growth, ecological diversity, wildlife habitat, and carbon sequestration? What I’m seeing is a bunch of eyesores scarring our land, devastation of forested hillsides, businesses that were dependent on tourist trade closing, increased costs for agricultural businesses dependent on rail transport of fertilizers into the area and corn out of the area, decreased wildlife habitat resulting in increased crop destruction as the wildlife relocate into adjacent cropland, and tons of colloidal clay from their ponds washing into our trout streams and ruining the trout habitat. There are toxic levels of silica 2.5 dust in the air which affect our health and probably animal health. In other localities near frac sand facilities, veterinarians have noticed increased fertility problems including a significant lower conception rate and higher rate of stillborn and weak calves. There have been similar reports by farmers near mine sites in Chippewa County. Coincidence?

I’m also seeing a tremendous increase in the number of homes for sale around these sites and at greatly reduced prices. Some people have given up and just walked away from their home to move elsewhere. Now I am seeing the approval of another reclamation permit for a 1300+ acre frac sand mine, processing plant, and trans-load station. This permit has been granted to a company with a known history of disregarding DNR regulations that protect our groundwater from contamination.

I have also read a good bit of The Chippewa County Code of Ordinances. The Chippewa County Code of Ordinances Chapter 30, Sec. 106 lines 741-744 states: “Sec. 30-106. Permit denial. An application for a nonmetallic mining reclamation permit shall be denied if any of the factors specified in Wis. Admin. Code NR § 135.22 exist. NR 135.22 Denial of application for reclamation permit, clearly states, “An application to issue a nonmetallic mining reclamation permit shall be denied if (c) 1. The applicant, or its agent, principal or predecessor has, during the course of nonmetallic mining in Wisconsin within 10 years of the permit application or modification request being considered shown a pattern of serious violations of this chapter or of federal, state or local environmental laws related to nonmetallic mining reclamation.” Northern Sands, LLC has more than 20 DNR violations of inappropriate exploratory borehole abandonments in Chippewa County. Leaving holes open can create a direct conduit for entry of contaminants to waters of the state and is a serious violation of ch. 281, Wisconsin Statutes and ch. NR812, Wis. Adm. Code. (Just ask anyone who has to drink water from an aquifer that has had liquid manure dumped down a hole into it).

The proposed post−mining land use given in 3.0 of the Howard Township Properties Nonmetallic Mine Reclamation Plan “include a combination of commercial and passive recreational uses....Approximately eighty-five percent of the site will be reclaimed as prairie grasslands: approximately fifteen percent of the area will be reclaimed as woodland.” The Chippewa County Land Conservation and Forest Management staff can explain better than I can that prairie grasslands are not the same as productive agricultural cropland that sustain food, fiber, and renewable energy production. (See goal 2 from Chippewa County’s Comprehensive Plan as quoted above.) NR 135 also states, “The proposed post−mining land use shall be consistent with local land use plans.” In addition, State law Sec.66.1001. Wis. Stats. requires that local land use-related decisions be consistent with the goals and objectives of that community’s comprehensive plan. I am not seeing how taking more and more productive cropland and forest away to return it to native prairie “maintains the capacity of the land to support productive forests and agricultural working lands to sustain food, fiber, and renewable energy production”.

I would also like to question why Chippewa County is not requiring an independent expert or consultant to do the monitoring and reporting of this mine site with reimbursement costs paid back to the county by Northern Sands. This permit allows Northern Sands to do their own checking and reporting. Their history has shown how well they have done that in the past. On multiple occasions, their actions and reports have been fabricated and falsely reported to both the Howard Town Board and the Wisconsin DNR. Having county personnel or even state personnel checking to make sure the monitoring and reporting is being done accurately is just adding to the taxpayers’ burden. With Northern Sands history, they will need close oversight and this cost should fall back onto Northern Sands—not the taxpayers.

An agency-designated consultant with recognized experience in the areas of financial assurance and reclamation should also be required to evaluate any financial assurance given by Northern Sands with the costs incurred paid by Northern Sands. Reclamation Surety Bonds for other mining endeavors have proved inadequate in the past. Repeatedly, the Surety Bonds have been for inadequate amounts. They may cover the cost of reclamation as outlined, but usually fail to cover any problems that may occur—especially the cost of re-working an area where reclamation failed and the cost of pollution clean-up. Also, there is a history of Surety Bond issuers failing when it comes time for the actual reclamation. In some instances there has been a close tie between the surety bond company and the mine owner.

In conclusion, I would like to repeat my question of how the Chippewa County envisions its future and how its actions in permitting these frac sand mines support this vision. Thank you."


Powerful speech.

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Have to read through this rather than glancing at it soon! Thanks for writing!

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