Amid a New Study, Questions Surround the Ongoing Mining Issue in Glenwood City

[first published on WIvoices.org]

Glenwood City Yard

Glenwood City Yard

A new and comprehensive study on frac sand mining was released Wednsesday featuring input from a local man.Tom Quinn is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, a statewide membership organization working to support family farms and rural communities.

Quinn is also an advisor for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy which generated the reportThe Economic Benefits and Costs of Frac-sand Mining in West Central Wisconsin”.

Quinn explains that the “frac mining industry will have a significant impact on rural communities – both positive and negative, and too often economic studies focus only on the positive impacts. Citizens need better data and better tools for evaluating all impacts and understanding how they balance with community needs. The history of mining as a source of long-term economic stability is generally very poor. It is argued that frac mining will be different, but communities need to evaluate this promise with open eyes.”

The new study suggests that communities considering frac sand mining should ask questions such as “What will be the costs to other economic activities?” and “What will be the environmental impact of these activities?”

The fear of many people in Glenwood City is that in the rush to pass a new mining ordinance these types of common sense questions are not being considered by the City Council. Residents also ask the council to visit New Auburn, only 40 minute east of Glenwood City, to witness a frac sand district first hand.

[WI Voices followed that advice and captured this video of Brenda Tabor-Adams in 2012, who lives in a New Auburn frac sand district with her family.]

According to residents, troubling issues presented themselves at the May 6, 2013 public meeting in Glenwood City. The City Clerk’s office confirmed that a special committee has been tasked with creating a non-metallic mining ordinance for Glenwood City, WI.This ordinance may lay the groundwork that could lead to annexation of land for the Vista Mine next to the public school of 650 children.

Glenwood City School; ironically nicknamed "The Hilltoppers"

Glenwood City School; ironically nicknamed “The Hilltoppers”

First, residents report that the committee appointed to create the new mining ordinance leans “pro-mine”.They do not believe the committee contains a true representation of the community and its feelings on frac sand mining in their city.

For example, residents attending the meeting report that Mayor John Larson vetoed the nomination of resident Chris Schone from the ordinance committee. Excluded resident Chris Schone is a local businessman and father of children attending the school next to the proposed mine.He said in a phone interview earlier today, “This thing is such a mess.A total mess.”

Schone assumes his exclusion is partially due to his outspoken criticism of how the Mayor is dealing with the frac sand project.In a prior public meeting, Schone questioned the Mayor’s authority to hire an attorney to draft an ordinance without council approval for such an action when he asked, “How much did that cost tax payers?”

In our interview, Schone went on to say, “How things have been handled from the very beginning has been very shady from the get-go…there should be no rush to this process.Most residents agree that there should be no rush to this process.And if the state of Minnesota has put a halt to frac sand mining in order to study it more, then we should, at a minimum, slow down the process in Glenwood City to give everybody a chance to study this thing.”

Schone claims that 75% – 80% of Glenwood City area residents are opposed to the Vista Mine but “the mayor is pushing it…saying Glenwood should do its part getting us off dependence on foreign oil.”

When WI Voices asked Larson how the ordinance committee was chosen, he responded, “I suggested to the city council that the committee could include the city council along with two standing committees that were already established – the Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals/Variance Committee.I also suggested adding [citizen] Ken Peterson to the committee as he’d asked several very good questions at a prior meeting. The city council approved the committee.”

Another troubling point in the May 6 City Council meeting, according to resident businessman Jim Laskin, came when a City Council member suggested that Vista Sand’s attorney be included as a member of the ordinance committee.This suggestion was apparently shot down.However, Laskin reports that during the meeting comments were made that while Vista’s attorney would not be on the ordinance committee, he could still be used to advise it.

In a phone interview Laskin commented on this saying, “It is complete nonsense.The idea of having the industry attorney present – why?Would we allow a tobacco company to write tobacco regulations?”

When WI Voices asked Mayor Larson about Vista’s role in the ordinance committee he responded, “The attorney for Vista Sand will definitely NOT be advising the committee on the non-metallic mining ordinance issue. This would be like the fox guarding the hen-house.I do not know if he is planning to attend public meetings… he’s certainly entitled to attend if he so desires.”

Vista’s role in the entire process is unsettling to some residents.

For instance, Law Firm Weld, Riley, Prenn & Ricci was initially employed by the Glenwood City school district until Vista Sands hired them away from the district.As a result, Superintendent of Glenwood City Schools Tim Emholtz explained that the district was “in a little bit of turmoil” trying to play catch up with new legal counsel. See video below from 2/25/13 public meeting.

Another surprising development at Tuesday night’s meeting was the sudden about-face by Glenwood County Chair Joe Draxler. In a stirring speech made back in February [Featured in above video], Draxler said he was “100% opposed to the annexation process” by the Glenwood City, feeling that St. Croix County was better positioned to consider Vista Sand’s mining application.He explained that annexation would be a “major blow to the town of Glenwood,” which would lose hundreds of acres of land to the city.

However, at the May 6, 2013 meeting Draxler suddenly stated his support for the annexation process.

When WI Voices asked Draxler about his change of heart in a phone interview, he had this to say, “Am I excited about losing that county land (to the city)? No.But it is better than the mine not happening at all.”

Draxler went on to say that he now believes local control is best and that his “frustration has maxed out with St. Croix County,” which he feels should be more of a “service organization” than a regulatory one.

WI Voices contacted St. Croix County for comment. Upon request, St. Croix County Land Use and Conservation Specialist Alex Blackburn supplied these public records describing the views of residents pertaining to frac sand mining in Glenwood City:

  • Petition signatures from Glenwood area residents
    opposing the mine = 471
  • Petition signatures from Glenwood area residents to require Vista Sand to obtain an insurance policy for water and air pollution = 228
  • Petition signatures from Glenwood area residents requesting additional study on water, air, or hauling hours = 182
  • Letters opposing the sand mine = 84
  • Letters in support of the sand mine= 5 (3 from residents; 2 from Town Board)

Members of the ordinance committee considering a new non-metallic mining ordinance for Glenwood City include: Mayor John Larson, Dave Graese, Ben DeGross, Terry Klinger, Nancy Hover, Scott Schone, Crystal Booth, Bryan Cress, Mark Oberhelman, Tom Stack, Shawn DeWitt, Joe Hill, and Ken Peterson.

A new version of a mining ordinance will likely be presented to the City Council for review at the next regular meeting on June 7 at 7:00 pm at the municipal building in Glenwood City.

Want more info? WIvoices.org Reference Document

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