Mining Referendum Stalled, Negotiations Begin with Frac Sand Company

[first published on WIvoices.org]

Crowd gathered to listen to the Glenwood City council to discuss the idea of a referendum on frac sand mining, September 9, 2013.  The council tabled the referendum petition on annexation signed by over half of the city's registered voters.

Crowd gathered to listen to the Glenwood City council to discuss the idea of a referendum on frac sand mining, September 9, 2013. The council tabled the referendum petition on annexation signed by over half of the city’s registered voters.

In the most subdued city council meeting in months, Glenwood area residents in western Wisconsin anxiously awaited to hear the action that would be taken by council members in response to their petition on frac sand mining.

It turns out they will have to continue to wait.

The council tabled the referendum discussion and did not schedule that discussion for any future meetings. Instead, the council scheduled a closed-session meeting with Texas company Vista Sand the following Monday.

The tabled referendum petition was initially presented to the Glenwood City council at the August 12, 2013 city council meeting. Signed by more than 50% of the registered voters, citizens argued that voting would give them a “voice in the process” concerning silica sand mining. Dozens of community members expressed a variety of concerns about annexing land into the city limits for the purpose of operating the “Vista” frac sand mine ½ mile from the public school of 650 students.

The recent action by the council highlights the different priorities at play in the Glenwood area. These priorities were briefly debated by council members Ben DeGross and Dave Graese, who discussed whether the referendum or the annexation request should come first.

Graese suggested, “I’d like to hold off on this discussion until we need to. If an annexation request comes in, then I think it is time to talk about a referendum.”

DeGross offered an alternative view, “But you can look at it the other way, though. If the referendum vote comes in as “no,” then why even waste the time with the annexation (discussion)?”

Julian Bender

Julian Bender

Surprising optimism sprouts from Julian Bender, the man tasked with presenting the now tabled petition to the city council. In his statement to WI Voices, the former high school principal had this to say about the stalled referendum:

Initially, I was disappointed, but then I realized that it was not a dead issue. The question of a referendum is still out there, and the council knows it. Therefore, they are going to proceed carefully.”

Prior to the city council decision, the public comment portion of the meeting was relatively quiet this evening with only 2 residents choosing to speak.

Wally Lindholm

Wally Lindholm

The first resident to speak was former Glenwood City Mayor and school superintendent Wally Lindholm. He voiced concerns about the deep agitation in the community and voiced his support of a referendum. Speaking directly to the council, “Does (a referendum) usurp the power of the council? I say ‘No’. I think a number of people here voted for you…and you still have the final decision. I appreciate the fact that you are listening…My hope is that you would take a good look at this (referendum) and realize it is not an affront to you personally”.

Lindholm continued, “My hope is that because there is enough controversy that has existed – even by the local paper itself giving information to all of us [gesturing to the editor Carlton DeWitt sitting nearby] – that you would look at having a referendum”.

Resident Mary Alice Calhoun expressed concerns about a controversial public meeting on 8/26/13, in which citizens were not allowed to speak. As a result, resident Carol Vaga was escorted out of the meeting by Chief Bob Darwin when she chose to speak about her concerns about living in a frac sand district.

Photo credit New Richmond News. Resident Carol Vaga is escorted from meeting when she voiced concerns about mining when public comments were closed.  Property owner Scott Teigen (blue shirt) looks on, Vista Sand's lawyer Anders Helquist (white shirt), city attorney from Bakke Norman (plaid shirt).

Photo credit New Richmond News. Resident Carol Vaga is escorted from a meeting when she voiced concerns about mining when public comments were closed. Property owner Scott Teigen (blue shirt) looks on, Vista Sand’s lawyer Anders Helquist (white shirt), city attorney from Bakke Norman (plaid shirt).

Calhoun said, “People keep coming to meetings telling you to slow down, and stuff just keeps happening. When we’ve expressed concerns about the mining ordinance you responded that it didn’t happen yet. Yet, the next meeting the public wasn’t allowed to talk, and that was the meeting that you passed the ordinance.”

Mary Alice Calhoun

Mary Alice Calhoun

Calhoun reiterated her support for a referendum, saying that she is opposed to the mine. She continued, “But if people say (through a referendum) that they want the mine? Fine, then I’ll stop fighting. Then, those who don’t want to live in an industrial area will just leave, and it will be all peaceful again. But let’s find out.”

Mayor John Larson said that it is “premature to start getting too involved with a referendum at this time,” because the city has not even begun negotiations with Vista Sand. “We’re now at a point where we can enter into those negotiations. Vista Sands may not like what we have to say and may want to continue with St. Croix County.”

Council member Crystal Booth made a motion for a referendum, “I’d like to make a motion that in the case that the city is requested to annex the Teigen/Crosby property, the city will hold a referendum prior to the city voting.”

DeGross initially seconded the motion, only later to rescind it saying, “We haven’t had a chance to sit down as a council and discuss any of this.”

Left without a second, Booth’s motion for a referendum on frac sand mining failed.

Mayor Larson reiterated his desire to begin negotiations with the mining company, “I want to know exactly what we are talking about with well water protections, Downing, fugitive dust control…we havn’t talked about any of that yet… We owe it to the community to find out exactly what we are talking about.”

Larson continued, “I would entertain a motion to table the referendum issue.”

Council member Nancy Hoover quickly said, “I’ll second that.”

Mayor, to Hoover, “You make the motion” [because the Mayor is not a member of the city council, he was unable to make that motion.]

Hoover then made the motion to table the referendum. It was seconded and passed unanimously by the council.

The crowd of 32 people was silent; many of whom slowly filed out of the room as the council continued on to other business.

Community frustration is now palpable, as many citizens learned the following day that the council decided to schedule a meeting with Vista Sand. At the tail-end of the council meeting after many citizens had gone home, a special session of the Glenwood City council was scheduled for Monday, September 16 at 6:30 at the Community Center.

As reported by the local Glenwood City newspaper, the Glenwood City council will enter into a closed-session meeting with Vista Sand. The agenda for the closed-session meeting includes “negotiation of a possible Developer’s Agreement with Vista Sand for a proposed sand mine.”

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9/2/13 audio of the above described Glenwood City Council meeting can be heard:

www.wivoices.org/audio/gwc-referendum-sept-9-13.mp3

8/26/13 video (captured by a local citizen) of Glenwood City Council adopting a new non-metallic mining ordinance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvSHhjkWCtA&feature=youtu.be

 

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WIvoices.org has been closely following this story:

The Huffington Post report on Glenwood City frac sand

Want More Information? See WIvoices.org’s Reference Document

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