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Our View: Mining issues must include local governments

There is a bill (SB 349) in Madison that could impact the control held by local governments. Two Republican state lawmakers -- Sen. Tom Tiffany, Hazelhurst, and Rep. Joan Ballweg, Markesan -- have introduced a bill that would curtail local governments’ ability to set limits on nonmetallic mining -- more specifically, frac-sand mining. Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos was hardly more reassuring, saying it’s a good bill but there’s no time to get it passed until spring.

Frac-sand mining has materialized all over. Wisconsin has about 115 operations, most in western Wisconsin. Fine-quality sand is excavated and shipped elsewhere for new extraction methods by oil and natural gas companies.

Demand is booming. Media outlets quote Richard Shearer, CEO of Texas-based Superior Silica Sands, declaring that “Wisconsin is the global epicenter…and we’re just getting started.”

Towns and local communities have reacted to this boom, as they should, with caution. Unanswered questions remain about environmental harm, including groundwater contamination, air pollution from blowing dust particles, noise from blasting and late-night machine operations, land-use reclamation, plus wear-and-tear on roads from processions of heavy trucks hauling loads of sand.

Glenwood City is currently in the midst of a huge debate. Local officials are facing recalls over the mining issue.

Some nearby towns have enacted temporary mining moratoriums until local controls are voted on. Some claim that the pending state legislation “appears to be written with only the mining operation side in mind and intends to take away the ability of locally elected officials to protect their communities from adverse mining impacts.”

Tiffany, the bill’s sponsor, says frac-sand miners are tired of dealing with a hodgepodge of local mining restrictions. Others say locals don’t have the expertise; control should be handed over to the state DNR.

What a shame having to deal with the local yokels. How much simpler if big government could just spell it out with a uniform rules. One size fits all!

We say no. Regardless of the presence of valuable mineral resources, it should be up to those local residents, those local town boards, to decide whether they want their land used for mining and, if so, how they choose to protect their roads, water, air and property values.

Area state lawmakers, especially Republicans who continually champion local control over big government dictates, must now decide if that mantra rings hollow or true.

In a letter to Tiffany and Ballweg last week, State Rep. Dean Knudson (R-Hudson) came out against the bill drafted by his fellow-Republicans.

He said “Nonmetallic mining is an important part of our regional economy, and we need this industry to be successful, but we cannot support this bill. We believe the non-metallic mining industry has real concerns that need to be addressed, but legislation in this area must honor the principle of local control. As drafted, SB 349 does not.”

We’ll see where other Republicans side in this debate. Obviously Democrats will be against the Republican introduced bill; in this case we think Republicans should also think twice about supporting SB 349.