Trempealeau County has permitted more than 25 silica sand mines thus far, with the majority not yet in production. On Thursday, the Environment and Land Use Committee held a public hearing on a proposed mining ordinance revision that drew more than 100 interested landowners, many of whom asked that the draft regulations be adopted and that a moratorium on new mines be imposed so that county leaders and residents can evaluate the impact dozens of new mines may pose come spring.
Jean Galasinski, Trempealeau County Tourism Council President, asked that the ordinance be adopted and a moratorium installed to prevent more mines until studies could be completed that addressed how mining may impact tourism. "Tourism plays a vital role in Trempealeau County," she said, adding that tourists generated $21.4 million in economic activity in 2011, representing a 3.2 percent increase over 2010. Will tourism keep growing, she wondered, if the mining industry does?
The draft ordinance proposes a 50-foot setback from the property line for mining activities, and includes new hours of operation that would allow processing activities 24 hours per day between Mondays at 6 a.m. and Saturdays at 3 p.m. Mining extraction activities would be allowed to occur Mondays through Fridays between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. during daylight savings time, and between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. during standard time, as well as on Saturdays between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. No noise restrictions would be posed during extraction hours, although a 45 decibel limit is enacted during "non-extraction hours." An operator wishing to process during non-extraction hours, must complete a "phase one noise survey" that indicates noise levels would not exceed the above-mentioned limits.
Donna Brogan, who served on the Citizen Advisory Committee that worked on the draft ordinance, expressed disappointment at regulations she said did "an absolute minimum of protecting our county. We could have done so much more." The county, she said, could have put a limit on the number of high capacity wells it would allow for mine processing, could have limited the number of processing plants it would allow, and could have identified the most vulnerable environmental features in the county as unavailable for mining activity. Brogan urged the committee to adopt the ordinance, then pass a moratorium to come up with better regulations.
Linda Mossman, whose family has owned the Oak Park Inn in Whitehall for 15 years, said she was concerned about the impact that permitted and new mines might have on bicycling tourism in her area. She said some areas in Trempealeau County were considered the best in the country for bicycling, and already there are two permitted mines along a popular route. The county should determine how bicycling and tourism and the sand industry could co-exist, she said, before granting more mine permits.
The draft ordinance can be viewed at www.tremplocounty.com or at the Trempealeau County Department of Land Management.