Seven sand mines in Buffalo County have been approved thus far. County leaders have been drafting new regulations for the controversial industry for months during a moratorium that prohibited additional new mines from obtaining county permits. On Monday, the public will have the chance to provide input on the proposed new rules governing sand mines, rules that will dictate the future of frac sand throughout the county.
The Buffalo County Zoning Board of Adjustment will hold a public hearing on the draft mine regulations on Monday, April 1, at 9 a.m. at the Buffalo County Courthouse in Alma. The zoning board will vote on a recommendation to go to the Buffalo County Board on the matter, and the County Board will hold a final vote on the issue sometime in April. Peter Stoltman, Buffalo County zoning technician, said there is a full agenda for the County Board meeting on April 16, and the board may elect to hold a special meeting to consider the sand ordinance prior to April 30, when the moratorium will expire.
The sand, which is used for the hydraulic fracturing process used to harvest oil and natural gas, has stirred controversy in the region, as the demand for the product has prompted many new mine proposals throughout Western Wisconsin and Southeastern Minnesota. Some residents have become activists against what they feel is an industry that could prove harmful to air, water, land values and roads, while others feel the addition of new mines could offer an economic boost for the region.
The draft ordinance to regulate new mines would prohibit mining activities in residential, commercial and recreational districts, but would allow mines on land zoned for industrial or agricultural use. "Transloading" facilities, used to transfer sand from truck to rail, would only be allowed in industrial areas.
All sand mines, processing facilities and transloading operations must obtain a conditional use permit, and the draft ordinance outlines the process by which the county will evaluate such facilities. The draft reads, "…nonmetallic mining proposals shall be analyzed specifically to ensure the wise use of the natural resources of the county, to protect surrounding properties and the physical environment, to promote public health, safety, and general welfare, and to evaluate aesthetic implications of the siting of such a mine at a given location."
A person proposing a new mine or related facility must provide specific information to the county when applying for a conditional use permit, including operation plans, details about the amount of water that might be needed, and maps that show the location of the proposed operation, as well as all surface water and wetlands on the mine site and those within 2,640 feet of the mine boundary. The draft ordinance also states, "A certification that the operator will provide, as a condition of the reclamation permit, financial assurance before the mining begins."
Land alterations meant to divert and control runoff must be in place before mining activities begin, according to the draft. Mines must be "operated in a manner that does not cause a permanent lowering of the water table resulting in adverse effects on surface waters or significant reduction in the quantity of groundwater reasonably available for future users of groundwater."
The draft ordinance requires mining operations to operate using standards for the control of fugitive dust, as defined in Wisconsin administrative code, and that the plan be on file at the county offices. The operator will also be expected to keep records that show the dust control plan is being followed.
Unannounced inspections may be conducted at the mine sites to ensure that regulations are being followed. Mine permits can be revoked if operators do not comply with regulations, according to the draft, and an operator found to have violated the ordinance or permit conditions may face fines of between $100 and $1,000. Each day a regulation is violated will be considered a separate violation, and if fines are not paid, an operator could be jailed for between one day and six months.