(first published on WIvoices.org)
Small business owner, Brenda Tabor-Adams, lives with her husband and 2-year-old son in a silica frac sand mining district between New Auburn and Chetek, WI. They are surrounded by mines. Two separate facilities are within a third of a mile and three more are within one mile of her once-quiet, rural property. In addition, several more mines are proposed or already operating nearby. Brenda’s clients now compete with 1,000 sand trucks per day, or 20 trucks every 15 minutes, in order to get their horse trailers in and out of her property. With trucks running for 12 hours/day, 6 days/week, her life has been turned upside down. Dismissed as “collateral damage” by local officials, she fears for the environmental impact, the health of her family and neighbors and the sustainability of her small business. Tabor-Adams also details troubling issues that regular people face when dealing with multimillion dollar mining companies, including lawyers threatening lawsuits, town and county boards “stacked” with pro-sand officials, and the understaffing and underfunding of the Department of Natural Resources tasked to protect the land and the people. Brenda says, “Our government has failed us miserably…”
Here’s her story.
Video Highlights from Tabor-Adams:
“I’m stuck here in this house and they won’t… [choking up with tears, hand over mouth]…they won’t help us out.”
“It’s been a long road. We’re not only worried about the silica in the air, but they can discharge their waste water supposedly…we’re worried whether we’ll have enough water…it’s just been icky.”
Map showing mines and mining facilities surrounding Brenda’s property.
Brenda and her family live in center right part of the image. ( On Hwy. AA )
Cheiftain’s Luckey Wet Plan is near the center of the image.
Bottom Right: Cheiftain’s Anderson mine.
These are only a couple of the mines and processing plants that surround her.
Click on “View Larger Map” to see other mining facilities very near Brenda’s home. ( further to the right )
Is it ok if we film your property?
[Laughing and looking around]
“With the weeds and everything? But I’ve just thought, why even bother – you know? Why even bother maintaining my yard because everything is covered in dust. It’s dirty, it’s icky, you don’t even want to come home….we put an addition on this house 2 years ago, so we could sit and enjoy the quiet, look at our animals and just enjoy our space. And now? We can’t even use our deck! It is loud, it stinks, it is covered in dirt… it’s not what I signed up for.”
“I no longer hang my clothes up….they are covered in dirt. There is no reason to. The trucks are going from 6:00 in the morning to 6:00 at night Monday through Saturday. And then there is still mining activity going on until 8:00 at night, sometimes even going longer. And then you can hear the plant that goes 24-7 all the time. Actually, I have a neighbor who lives right on the Makenzie Marsh, and her entire property is vibrating. When she lies in bed she just feels her house shaking.
[Tearing and trembling] I’m sorry I got so emotional, but I can’t help it.
The screens are caked in dirt, so what is going into my lungs? You can’t keep it clean inside the house. It’s just covered in dirt. It’s on your skin all of the time.
…not only do I have to deal with truck traffic, the 24-hour-a-day mining activity and dirt, but now my water faucet spits a little air. Drywall screws are punching through the ceiling in my kitchen and bathroom from the trucks hitting the bumps on the road and shaking my house all day.”
Have you thought about moving at all?
“We’ve thought about moving. It’s just…who’s going to buy this? Who’s going to buy this? [Motioning around] We’d have to take quite a loss if we were going to move…you know, you don’t just write out a check and go buy another house. The mining companies are fighting the property guarantee, which the companies would have to pay the land owners if they sold for a loss. The mining reps say that my property will only increase in value. They say that people will eventually want to come to live here because of the reclamation. But, I think they’ll leave the land when it is done. The amount of money they’ve proposed to reclaim the area is $1,500/acre. You know, you can’t even start-up a bobcat for that amount.”
“A friend of mine works for a rock quarry mining company, and she said that frac sand mining is no kind of mining that she knows at all. The quarry takes care of the people around their area. If people are unhappy, they buy their property. So, when I first heard of sand mining I thought – big deal?…because that was my frame of reference.”
Then I actually had a really good friend not say anything to me when she sold her property…and I had a nephew who didn’t say anything to me, either. Then, another one of my friends down the road got manipulated into selling their property to the mining companies, because they told her, ‘you don’t want to live next to a sand mine, it is really, really bad, you need to get out.’ …Then, they pretty much took their property… But they actually did want her land, because they built their tracks there…But she refused to sign the gag order. Then she actually spearheaded the little group in the neighborhood, The Concerned Dovre Residents, and tried to convince the town board that we needed an ordinance.”
Video Highlights from Tabor-Adams:
“At town board meetings we’ve had sand company lawyers threaten to sue us if we pass ordinances to try to protect the residents…they have also threatened to have Governor Walker step in if we pass an ordinance that they don’t agree with”
“The county board doesn’t want to hear it, they’re all for jobs. They don’t care what happens to us. We’re actually called ‘collateral damage’…they figure it is ok for us to ‘take one for the team’ in the name of jobs…”
“the town board hired an attorney from a pro-sand mine firm to help us…he says the DNR is doing a good enough job…”
“the deregulation of the DNR doesn’t allow me much protection anymore, its turned into a customer service agency turning out as many permits as they can…”
” I was actually a very strict Republican up until last year…but now as it is hitting me on a personal level, and I’m not anymore.”
Do you know anyone who works at the mines in the area?
“Yes, my nephew who used to own the place where the wet plant is and also my brother-in-law got in there and I have a client who has a son who works here. They are hiring, not a lot, but they are.”
What about neighbors who were able to sell their property?
“It depends on how it was done. Some just sold their property and moved away. Then, some sold their property and went to the town board, and they didn’t care about what they did to their neighbors…it was their money and they don’t want any regulation at all. They may have had good friends or even family members…and then to have them just turn their back on you because of jobs or money? They don’t care what happens to you and your family…
Call it what it is – it would’ve been much better to me. Instead of throwing me under the bus, just come right out and say, ‘I want my money.’
We’ve [The Concerned Dovre Residents Group] personally hired Glen Stoddard as an attorney and he’s been trying to help us out. Our goals are to try to protect our air, protect our water, protect our property values, save us from the truck traffic…make sure that we are not just run into the ground. The town board just doesn’t want to hear anything about it.
There are more people in our Concerned Dovre Residents group ready to talk to you. Our whole story is so unbelievable that we are afraid no one would believe it even if it were a made-for -TV movie. We’ve had violations of open meeting laws, a town attorney with a conflict of interest, a stacked county board that doesn’t want to collect information from any professionals, including the Wisconsin Town’s Association, our attorney, or even Jim Drost who is a Mining & Environmental Engineer.
And we can’t seem to get anyone with power to notice! Even on the other side of the county – they’re like, “we don’t care.” It’s not happening in their back yard. But a lot of people are born and raised in this area and have no idea what big money, big oil, big corporations can do. They have no clue.”
If somebody did approach you and asked to buy you out, at a fair price, would you consider doing that?
“I would. Um, actually, the entire group of us that has been standing up and trying to get us all protected, have all said that if anybody has a chance to get out – we’re all for it. If it means the rest of us have to stay here….just anybody getting out would be good.
But they don’t have to buy us. Why should they? It is an extra $100,000 that they can pay their CEOs…I don’t know.
If I had one wish, honestly, I’d just like to leave. If I can’t….if it isn’t going to stop, I just want to leave. I didn’t sign up for this. I didn’t buy this little chunk of acreage out in the country in a quiet little township to turn it into an industrial park….I could’ve lived anywhere. I wouldn’t have picked an industrial park.”
The lawmakers in the state of Wisconsin have indicated that loosening mining regulations is a priority for the next legislative session. This has many people worried, especially given the understaffing and underfunding of the DNR coupled with county regulators being hired away by the sand companies they formerly regulated. With a total of more than 100 frac sand mines or processing facilities currently operating or proposed in the state, more and more families likely will find themselves expected to “take one for the team” as “collateral damage” in Wisconsin’s sand rush.
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