On Thursday, March 28, two members of the DeForest Area Progressives drove 2 & 1/2 hours north to Whitehall WI, pop. 1558, the county seat of Trempeleau county. The purpose of this visit was to show solidarity with a group of concerned citizens who were seeking a moratorium on sand mining in the county, which is now home to 25% of Wisconsin's permitted sand mines.
One of us spoke at the public meeting and explained that we had come as concerned citizens of a county that also contained sandstone worth mining who were also concerned about the environment and the impact that the economics of mining would have on the relationships within a community. After a break, one of the farmers who had sold his land came over and said that he was now having second thoughts because many of his neighbors were reacting in ways that he had not expected.
One of the speakers represented the mining company. He described himself as "a sand miner from Michigan." Based on his command of his subject matter and his speaking style, I would guess that he was both a public relations person and a graduate of a mining degree program rather than JUST any old sand miner from Michigan. His presentation SEEMED to answer many of the questions that would have been raised, such as: how will the Trempeleau river be protected from storm runoff; how will the land be reclaimed after the mining is done; how many trucks per day will use the highway, etc.
During the public statement part of the meeting, Heather Andersen, of the Save the Hills group in Chippewa county, spoke on the subject of mining company "promises." She said that her group had received photographs of mining pond leaks and storm overflows from hikers; that mining companies had routinely been fined for drilling too many high capacity wells and/or pumping too much water per hour; that mining companies had also been fined for additional air and water quality issues, especially regarding dust from the sand that was too fine to be used in fracking.
All in all, the trip was both educational and depressing. I highly recommend that every progressive in the southern third of Wisconsin or Minnesota take the time to search out sand mines to the north of you, even if only on the web. These things are erupting like measles or small pox on the face of the land and are turning neighbor against neighbor. And what is worse: the miners are moving south.
One can paraphrase the words of Pastor Niemöller: First they mined in Barron county, but I didn't speak out because I wasn't a farmer and I did not live there. Then they mined in Chippewa county and I didn't speak out because I lived three hours south. Then they mined in Trempeleau county, and I didn't speak out because I lived over 2 hours south. Then they came to mine Dane county, and there was no one left to speak for me because the rest of the state was a devastated wasteland.
I sincerely hope that it does not come to the miners ripping at Castle Rock or the Dells before we get our act together and start putting pressure on the legislature to force some state regulation of non-metallic (aka sand) mining!
- Karen Edson