Dozens of opponents of a planned frac sand facility across Highway 35 from Cochrane-Fountain City School gathered last week at an initial hearing before the Buffalo County Zoning Board of Adjustment, where applications for four new sand operations were discussed.
The Conditional Use Permit (CUP) applications were tabled, although that was to be expected; the meeting was the first of several planned for the requests, which include two mines near Mondovi and Waumandee and a drying plant and rail hub near the school. The initial hearing included presentations from the sand company applicants and questions from the board. A public hearing will be held in the coming months, but is yet to be scheduled.
Buffalo County leaders recently approved a one-year moratorium on new frac sand facilities, and the four requested operations from 11 landowner groups were those that were submitted just before the temporary hold was installed. On Wednesday, representatives from Glacier Sands repeatedly told a concerned crowd that they would be good neighbors, that they would respect the environment and be good stewards of the rural landscape planned for development, and, that the operations could include mining for four decades.
near CFC School
John and Patricia Starkey, of The Woodlands, Texas, have proposed two facilities on 325 acres across from CFC School: a frac sand drying plant and a rail loading operation connected to Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) tracks.
Glacier Sands representative Tom Hubbard told the board that because of concerns about the operation near the school, the company was considering moving the drying plant closer to the river. The plant would operate constantly, and the adjacent rail facility would also be permitted to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, bringing up to 500 truck loads of sand to the site per day. One train would leave the facility every two to three days, he explained, and the entire operation would be indoors.
Air monitoring devices would be placed on and off site, continued Hubbard, adding that the company would also like to place one at the school.
Wetlands have been identified on the property, and Hubbard said the areas that would be disturbed have been farmed over the years and are of low quality. Disturbed wetlands would be replaced on the site, he said.
Concerns were aired over the ability of Kamrowski Road and a nearby bridge to handle such truck traffic, and Hubbard said it may be more financially feasible to create a new road at Highway 88.
PSeven Sands: Bork/Bork/Baecker/Baecker/alkowski/Allemann proposal
Robert and Bruce Baecker, Marlene Baecker, Dennis and Debra Boark, Francis and Mary Lane Bork, Loretta Palkowski and Michael Palkowski, and Richard and Victoria Allemann, AKA Seven Sands, have also requested a CUP for a frac sand mine in the Town of Montana on 1,389 acres.
Hubbard said that about 450 acres at the site would be mined over 40 years, and that five to ten acres would be stripped at a time. Reclamation would occur after each five to ten acre site was complete, which would take just under a year each, he said. The wash plant at the site would operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and would include about 190 trucks per day leaving the operation. Showing the area on an aerial photo map, Hubbard said only a small portion of wooded area would be mined to take out the rest of a hillside.
Trucks would follow Highway 88 to Highway 35, and the sand would be transferred to the Starkey site for drying and loading onto rail cars.
Roger and Sally Larson, Dean Johnson and Glenn Johnson, and William Johnson and Glen Johnson have proposed a frac sand mine on 998.52 acres of land in the Town of Mondovi.
The site would include a mine and processing plant, with the plant operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Hubbard told the board that the number of acres that would be mined had not been mapped out yet, but that 150 truck loads would leave the site headed to the Starkey facility per day, and 150 more would head north to Chippewa County.
Ryan Thomas, whose family owns Glacier Sands, said the business was established in 2011 after the Texas frac sand company the family owned since 2003 was sold. Prior to the frac business, Thomas said his family had owned a turf grass company, and that it also worked in real estate.
Glacier Sands representative Wayne Steinmetz told the board that the business was committed to being a good steward of the land, and that it knew it had a lot of work ahead to convince the public of that mission. "There clearly are some challenges for us as an organization to work with you," he said. "It's a hot topic in the area, we realize that. Glacier Sands is committed to being a part of your community for years and decades to come. We're here for the long run."
In response to questions about reclamation plans for the sites, which have not been submitted, Steinmetz explained that they would be prepared after permits were approved.
What if the frac sand industry were to end, asked a board member, such as if the federal regulators shut down the hydraulic fracturing method of extracting oil and natural gas. What would happen to these mines? Hubbard said that bonds would be there to cover the cost of reclamation if that occurred. "I don't think anybody can guarantee what the future holds," he admitted.
Concerns over the ability of Highway 88 to handle the amount of truck traffic proposed were also presented, and Hubbard said the Wisconsin Department of Transportation is currently doing a study on the safety of the roadway.
Company representatives said that the sand facilities promised more than 100 jobs, not counting truck driving positions, and proponents of the sand operations wore brightly colored shirts that spoke of the economic stimulus the industry would bring.
One Board of Adjustment member said he felt the drying plant and rail spur proposal did not only need a CUP, but also a zone change, in order to proceed. Glacier Sands representatives said the former Planning and Zoning Director had advised they simply apply for a CUP. Because the site is on agriculturally-zoned property but poses an industrial use, additional permitting may be required.