A proposed sand mine in the town of Union is one step closer to breaking ground.
The Waupaca County Planning and Zoning Committee voted Thursday, June 6, to grant a conditional use permit for the mine.
After more than two hours of hammering out the details of its conditions, the committee voted 3-2 in favor of the permit.
Voting to grant the permit were Jack Penney of Lind, Terry Murphy of Iola, and DuWayne Federwitz of rural Clintonville.
Voting against the permit were Dennis Kussmann of Clintonville and Bob Ellis of Dayton.
Among the issues discussed at the meeting was what the town of Union actually wanted.
Angela Williamson Emmert urged the county committee to uphold the Union Town Board’s original vote against granting the mine a permit.
In 2012, the Union Town Board voted against a permit. Its vote was based on the elements of the town’s comprehensive plan, which prohibited sand mines from operating within 2,000 feet of any home.
In April, Union experienced a record voter turnout for a town board election. A new chairman and supervisor were elected.
The new town chairman, Roger Henschel, owns one of the parcels where A.F. Gelhar Mining Co. plans to open its sand mine. He has recused himself from voting on the issue at town meetings to avoid conflict of interest.
The other two town supervisors, incumbent Gary Schoen and newcomer David Heideman, have deadlocked on issues pertaining to the mining proposal.
“There simply is not clear majority support for this proposal in the town of Union,” Williams Emmert said.
Penney said he was disappointed by the town board’s inability to reach a clear decision on the sand mine issue.
“Whatever decision is made here today, some people will go away happy and some will go away disappointed,” Penney said.
Steve Sorenson, an attorney for Gelhar, argued that for the sand mine to be economically viable, it needed to be able to deliver sand to Waupaca Foundry 24 hours a day, seven days a week, contrary to one of the conditions recommended by the Union Town Board in 2012.
He also said the sand mine would produce about 300,000 to 500,000 tons of sand per year
Gary Gigante, CEO of Waupaca Foundry, said the foundry used about 350,000 tons of sand annually.
Gigante told the committee that due to the high volumes of sand used by hydro-fracking industry, the foundry was experiencing drastic increases in the price of sand.
“This sand mine would provide the sand the foundry needs for many years to come,” Gigante said.
Sorenson also told the committee that Gelhar would not be producing frac sand at its facility in Union.
He said it was not financially feasible for the company to produce frac sand since it would require additional equipment and access to a rail line.
However, Williams Emmert noted that the proposed permit included a condition that would allow for frac sand production.
Although originally prohibited in the town’s proposed conditions, the zoning department presented conditions to the committee that prohibited the sale of frac sand “without prior approval of the zoning department.”
The committee voted unanimously to strike that clause because it would allow the sale of frac sand with prior approval.
Another change that elected officials made to the zoning department’s recommendations involved the distance between mining operations and neighboring properties.
As presented to the zoning committee, the permit would allow Gelhar to operate within 200 feet of a neighboring dwelling.
“That’s too close,” Penney said.
Ellis recommended that the language be changed from dwelling to lot line.
Kussmann recommended that the distance be changed from 200 feet to 500 feet.
The committee passed the revised condition unanimously. It now reads, “The nearest edge of all buildings, structures, and surface activity areas, including pit edges, shall be located a minimum of 500 feet from all property lines.”
The committee divided over the condition regarding the mine’s hours of operation.
The town had originally recommended that the mine only be permitted to operate 14 hours per day Monday through Friday and from 5 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. The town also proposed that the mine be prohibited from operating on Sundays and holidays.
Ryan Brown, the county planning and zoning director, said Gelhar needed to be able to operate the mine 16 hours per day in order to have two eight-hour shifts.
He also said the company needs to be able to load trucks 24 hours a day in order to provide material to the foundry.
He said the town’s 14-hour per day limit would be unsustainable for the mine.
Richard Carlson, who has been providing the committee legal counsel regarding the mine, said the committee should consider more restrictive conditions when granting the permit because “it’s always easier to loosen the screw than to tighten it.”
Kussmann and Ellis supported the town’s more restrictive hours, but the other three committee members supported less restrictive conditions on the hours of operation.
Actual mining can occur 16 hours per day, Monday through Friday.
“The operation of the mine between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., weekends and holidays will be minimized to only the extent necessary to provide material to foundries, allow for proper security and comply with all existing mining laws,” according to the condition approved by the committee.
The committee took steps to protect neighboring property values.
A condition of the permit requires Gelhar, prior to opening the mine, to pay for two independent appraisals of all property located within a quarter of a mile from the mine. The average value of the two appraisals will become the baseline value of the property.
If an owner is unable to sell a property after six months on the market, Gelhar is required to buy it at the baseline cost plus 10 percent.