A wooded ridge overlooking a corn field in the sparsely populated town of Union has become the center of a growing controversy.
A.F. Gelhar Mining Co., based in Markesan, plans to open a silica sand mine on a 160-acre site.
If Waupaca County approves Gelhar’s proposal, it would become the largest non-metallic mining operation in a county with more than 40 active gravel and sand pits.
Gelhar is scheduled to make its case before the Waupaca County Zoning Committee at a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1, at the courthouse in Waupaca.
Both the Union Town Board and the town’s Planning Commission have recommended that the county not approve a conditional use permit for the mine.
Over the next several weeks, the County Post will examine the environmental, health and economic issues associated with the proposed sand mine. This is the first in an ongoing series.
In its application for a permit from the county, Gelhar provided a 40-page description of its operations and reclamation plans.
About 30 acres of the site will be active at any given time. Gelhar anticipates the operation will have a 30-year life span. However, the company recognizes that market conditions will determine its longevity.
Geological surveys estimate that there are approximately 33 million cubic yards of sand that can be mined from the site. The sandstone deposit the company seeks to extract is between 45 feet and 180 feet thick. It is beneath a layer of topsoil and overburden that is between 25 feet and 80 feet thick.
The operation will include a wash plant, a wash pond, crusher, scale, sand drying plant and other equipment, such as backhoes, trucks, front-end loaders and conveyor belts.
To the south of the site is Dennison Road, where up to 100 trucks per day would enter and leave the plant.
Postel Lane is on the site’s north side, at the top of a ridge much of which would eventually be removed as part of the mining process.
Across Postel Lane from the site is Tellock’s Hill Woods, a 54-acre state natural area owned by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. It is home to red-backed and blue spotted salamanders, yellow-throated vireo, ovenbird, wood thrush, pileated woodpecker and broad-winged hawk, according to the DNR.
Clyde Tellock’s home is also located in a secluded 7.5-acre parcel on Postel Lane.
Tellock said he was concerned about Gelhar’s plans to operate the facility 24 hours per day, six days per week.
“There are no setback requirements for sand mines,” Tellock said. “If it’s approved, I will be able to see the sand mine from my front door.”
Although there are no specific setbacks required for mining operations, county ordinances require rural industrial operations to be set back at least 30-feet from the center of adjacent roads.
Vegetation-covered berms will also be required. They can be outside the setbacks.
Tellock serves as the town clerk in Union, as well as the Waupaca County treasurer.
“I wish our town had adopted a mining ordinance,” Tellock said. “The county needs to look at its ordinance as well, because there is very little control over mining.”
Tellock noted that citizens of Waupaca County spent years devising local comprehensive plans that sought to preserve farm land and natural resources. He wonders how a large mining operation fits into those goals.
Mining and water quality
“I’m also concerned about how this will affect the groundwater.” Tellock said.
Gelhar plans to install a high-capacity well and build a network of ponds for washing the sand.
“The high-capacity well will be used to maintain water levels in wash ponds,” according to Gelhar’s operations plan. “All wash water will be returned to the ponds to be reused.”
Tellock wonders how the high-capacity well will affect his own well and the wells of those living in the area.
The proposed mine would also be located about 850 feet north of Beaver Creek, which feeds into the Little Wolf River.
According to Gelhar’s operation plan, surface water that flows off the site will go into a ditch on the north side of Dennison Road, which discharges into Beaver Creek. There are also wetlands located in the southeast portion of the parcel.
Gelhar’s plan includes steps to protect local water quality. The operation will maintain a 30-foot setback from the wetlands.
In addition to the washing ponds, there will be a retention pond to control storm water. Gelhar will also install silt fencing down the slope of its excavations area, vegetated berms along the edges of the operation and swales to divert the flow of water back toward the mine.
Next week’s installment in the series will examine the mine’s environmental impact in more detail.