In each of the three races for control of the Union Town Board, the key issue dividing the candidates is the proposed sand mine.
The outcome of the April 2 election may determine the outcome of the ongoing struggle over whether to open the operation.
Roger Henschel and Marcy Wentworth are competing for the position of town chair.
Bob Phelan is challenging incumbent Gary Schoen for the supervisor 1 seat.
Lee Werth and David Heideman are running for supervisor 2.
Other contested races in Union are for town clerk and town treasurer.
Sharon Olsen, who was recently appointed as town clerk after Clyde Tellock resigned, is running against Jane Dietz.
For the position of treasurer, incumbent Sandra Werth is being challenged by Donna Simons.
The County Post asked each of the candidates with voting authority on the town board to address the sand mine issue. They were also asked about proposed changes to the town’s Comprehensive Plan that would remove barriers to opening the sand mine.
Do you believe the sand mine has the potential to benefit or harm the residents of Union?
Wentworth: If you look at central and western Wisconsin areas that have sand mines you’ll see that those who live closest to the mine suffer the most.
The health dangers are real, with dust noise and vibrations they have lost their quality of life. They will never have quiet enjoyment of the outdoors.
Proponents cite jobs, tax revenue and Waupaca Foundry as benefits. However the mine originally wanted the Dennison Lumber property as well. In the likelihood that agreement is reached 13 jobs would be lost there plus that tax revenue. So net jobs and revenue increases become very small.
Sand is not a major concern at the foundry. Recently they’ve installed new sand recycling equipment so they will actually need less sand. With the explosion of new sand mines in Wisconsin it is unlikely they’ll ever have a shortage.
Another major impact will be roads. Dennison Road will be torn up by heavy, constant truck traffic as well as County Road O. So our town will incur additional cost for our road as well.
Lastly is the water. Not only are they going to use tens of millions of gallons of water, they are also going to remove the sandstone aquifer itself. The sand and earth that filters water for the aquifer will be removed and the aquifer will be exposed and open for contamination.
Henschel: Before answering this question I need to make it perfectly clear to the residents of the town of Union that the sand company has approached me to buy a parcel of my land.
Having said that; when I was first approached by the sand company to sell them my property, I had very mixed feeling about this type of operation. I then did a lot of research on this subject. I listened to a lot of people, a majority of them being experts in this very field.
I found that an operation of this type is stringently regulated by the county Zoning Committee, the EPA, DNR and the East Central Planning Commission. I also found that this sand would be used at the local foundries at a considerable cost savings to them. This would help to preserve our local manufacturing jobs and help the entire local economy.
I have talked with local residents who hope that this sand mine will start operation in the town. I visited a sand mine that is now in operation in Markesan and operated by the same company that proposes coming to Union.
After doing all this, I have come to the conclusion that the proposed sand mine will help boost our local economy and with the proposed restrictions in place will not have any negative effect on our environment.
Schoen: The proposed sand mine can provide an economic benefit to the town of Union in providing additional jobs in the area and also increased tax revenue.
During the past years the town lost several businesses, such as three cheese factories, three grocery stores, meat market, three gas and service stations, feed mill, barber shop, and a manufacturing facility. These businesses employed several people.
It is time that we get some local jobs back in the area to help benefit our residents and local businesses.
Sand mines are closely regulated by the state, DNR, County Zoning, just to name a few of the groups that oversee their operations.
Gelhar, the company proposing the operation in Union, has an excellent reputation for complying with the operational regulations. I have viewed their operation in Markesan and it appears to be a first class operation and there are also very expensive homes adjacent to the mine property. I don’t expect any harm to the neighboring residents, wells or the area.
The product from their operation will support Waupaca Foundry and help them to remain very competitive
in their business. The foundry is vital to the economic environment in Waupaca County.
Phelan: Over the last six months I have been to all the meetings and watched my opponent negotiate a deal that clearly favors the mine. He fought to extend hours of operation even when people who live just a few hundred feet away were saying no..
My opponent supported increasing the mine’s noise level from 65 decibels to 75. The residents asked for less noise and my opponent asked what the mine needed instead and handed it to them.
Many questions were raised about high capacity wells and surface water. Our community was told the DNR would handle that and the process would be complaint driven. I don’t think that approach goes far enough to protect the residents of Waupaca County. Recent reports show the DNR is understaffed and many of the current sand mines have serious violations.
Many folks voiced concerns about heavy trucks, road damage, noise and dust. I share those concerns because no science has been done in Union regarding the effects this mine could have. Instead of groundwater modeling, residents were handed an incomplete well agreement that makes them jump through hoops to remedy problems.
The conditions my opponent attached to the Conditional Use Permit for this mine do not go far enough to protect the health and welfare of the people who live here. We need local control and strong licensing agreements for non-metallic mining in our county
Werth: I have no comment on the sand mine. That’s not the reason I’m running. I’m running because I truly care about my township and the = future of my community.
Heideman: Being a member of the town of Union Planning Commission I have taken the time to listen to the town residents and research sand mining. I also visited a sand mine in central Wisconsin and talked to the neighbors of this sand mine.
After weighing the advantages and disadvantages I believe that a large scale sand mine at the proposed location would have a negative effect on the town of Union.
This location is too close to residences that we have and to Tellock’s Hill Woods. Tellock’s Hill Woods is state owned DNR land that is specifically listed in our town of Union Comprehensive Plan as a State Natural Area and Land Legacy Place that we would like to protect and preserve.
I believe that sand could be obtained at locations closer to the Waupaca Foundry. This would lower the transportation cost for the foundry and protect miles of roads from the heavy truck traffic that the mine will generate.
I also believe that more research needs to be completed on the health and environmental effects of large scale mining before any mines of this size are permitted in Waupaca County.
Do you support proposed revisions to the town’s comprehensive plan that would remove barriers to opening the sand mine?
Henschel: The sand mine company’s interest in my property has created a conflict of interest with this issue. I will need to recuse myself from commenting or voting on this particular matter.
Wentworth: No, Under the Waupaca County Zoning Ordinance, conditional uses “may be appropriate within a specific zone provided conditions can be met that ensure no adverse effects to the county’s and immediate vicinity’s health, general welfare, safety, and economic prosperity.”
Non-metallic sand mining and processing operations typically cause adverse effects to residents living within 2,000 feet of them, including adverse effects on their health, general welfare, and property values.
It is important to consider that the existing 2,000 foot setback in the town of Union Comprehensive Plan is intended to address this problem by keeping such mining operations well away from nearby residences. This is a provision that protects existing town residents and it should be maintained and not reduced or weakened for the benefit of a private, for-profit company at the expense of the nearby residents and the town as a whole.
The proposed A.F. Gelhar Co. mining operation would certainly disrupt the character and quality of life of the area, and it would cause nearby properties to suffer significant devaluation, particularly if it was allowed to be closer than 2,000 feet from nearby residences. The same can be said for any other such operation if it is located too close to nearby residences.
Phelan: Any reduction of our protections by changing the setback from 2,000 feet to 200 feet is a blatant handout to the sand miners and unfair to the people who will continue to live here.
The proposed change is not an improvement.
Can you imagine rock crushing machines going 24/7 just 200 feet from your home? It’s a completely insane idea and wrong for our area.
If the will of the people is a future that involves sand mining in our township then we need to take many more steps to protect our property values, water, roads and the health of the township. We can balance the need for jobs in a way that does not permanently ruin the environment.
Schoen: I support revisions to the comprehensive plan that will help bring jobs to the area.
Heideman: I do not support changing the distance of new mineral extraction operations or the operation of equipment from residence.
The proposal is to change this distance from 2,000 feet to 200 feet. In my opinion most residents of our township would not like large scale industrial mining equipment, including washing, drying and rock crushing equipment, 200 feet from their front door.
Our Comprehensive Plan was completed with a distance of 2,000 feet to protect the residents of the town of Union. Lowering the distance to anything less than 2,000 feet would not benefit our residents.