Local Frac Sand Resolution Gains Traction

“Why has there never been an environmental study of any sort done on a frac sand facility?”

By Rod Stetzer
Chippewa Valley Herald (12/17/14)

A resolution asking the state to fund a scientific study by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources of the sand mine industry will be considered by the Chippewa County Executive Committee next month.

If the committee gives its approval at its Jan. 6, 2015 meeting, the resolution would go before the full County Board Jan. 13.

Town of Howard resident Ken Schmitt asked the committee Tuesday for support of the Citizens Petition for a Strategic Analysis for Frac Sand Mining. Schmitt, a vocal critic of the sand mine industry, spoke before the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board in October about the petition.

“This request would have no impact on the county budget,” said Schmitt, and County Administrator Frank Pascarella confirmed that would be the case.

“This action is the right thing for you to do for your constituents,” Schmitt said.

He said the study, which would be the first of its kind in the state, would look at the environmental, health and economic impact of the sand mine industry.

County Board chairman Paul Michels said he is all for public safety. “But I’m not an advocate of duplication of public services,” he said, asking Schmitt if a study would be a duplication. Schmitt said not to his knowledge.

“How many counties will it take to get any movement, to get any action?” asked board Vice Chairman Henry Shakal.

“More always helps,” Schmitt replied, adding that Chippewa County is known in the state as a frac sand area. He said he has passed the petition on to people in four or five other counties, but has not heard if those counties will consider asking the state to fund such a study.

The petition method is a relatively new mechanism in the state administrative rules, Schmitt said. He said he understands this is only the second time this method is being used.

“I think the pace and the amount of expansion (of the frac sand industry) has opened eyes,” said Schmitt.

“One example is Chieftain Sand, just north of New Auburn. They are in the permitting process with the DNR to increase (the company’s) drier capacity from 150 tons per hour to 400 tons per hour and are adding nine mines to what they already have,” Schmitt told the committee.

“There may be at least another four dry plants between Chetek and Bloomer, in addition to the four already there, along with a resin plant.”

According to Schmitt, there hasn’t been an environmental impact statement or an environmental assessment of a frac sand operation in Wisconsin. He said the state is doing an environmental impact study on a shooting range on DNR property in Columbia County.

“The size and scale of this industry simply dwarfs that project. Why has there never been an environmental study of any sort done on a frac sand facility?” he asked.

Schmitt said he’s gathered 50 signatures for the petition and another man has gathered 40, plus others at the Howard Town Hall.

“A very high percentage of these signers are from Chippewa County and are directly impacted by this industry,” Schmitt said, adding that the frac sand industry should be on board asking for the state to conduct a scientific study.

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