Can a single set of regulations cover industrial sand mines, as well as traditional, small-scale sand and gravel pits?
That and other concerns were raised when the ad hoc committee presented the proposed new ordinance for sand mines that it wrote to the Implementation Steering Committee (ISC) Monday.
After the heated controversy of a proposed 160-acre sand mine in the town of Union, the Waupaca County Board placed a moratorium on new sand mine permits in September 2013 and tasked the ISC to draft a new Non-Metallic Mining Ordinance.
In April, an ad hoc committee began meeting to research the environmental and economic issues associated with sand mines.
Several ISC members questioned proposed setbacks and asked why the ordinance did not address issues that had been discussed when the moratorium went into effect.
County Supervisor Pat Craig asked why the ordinance did not address how a sand mine might impact a community’s quality of life.
“How do you define ‘quality of life’?” responded Planning and Zoning Director Ryan Brown.
“Our town’s (comprehensive) plans talk about quality of life. Is that something we can address in the ordinance?” asked Jackie Beyer, the town clerk and planning committee chair in Little Wolf.
Kay Ellis, from the town of Dayton, asked why the ordinance does not prohibit mining below the water table.
She described how Waupaca County is noted for its lakes and clear water and said the county should protect that resource.
Lisa Coombs, an engineering specialist with the Waupaca County Highway Department, said the ordinance allows the zoning office to look at how specific sites affect the water, rather than have “a blanket prohibition.”
According to the proposed ordinance, when a company or individual applies for a non-metallic mining permit, they must send a certified letter to all neighboring properties within 1,320 feet from the mining site. The letter must notify the property owners that if they want their wells tested for baseline purposes, the mining operation will pay for the tests if the owner responds in writing within 30 days.
The ordinance provides a groundwater well guarantee that mining operations will not affect the quantity or quality of groundwater for neighboring properties. The effects will be determined by comparing the test samples taken prior to the mine opening with samples taken later.
Ramona Danke, who lives in Bear Creek, spoke to the ISC during public input. She said she lives near the proposed sand mine in Union, but just outside the 1,320 limit in the proposed ordinance.
“We live in a cluster of homes,” Danke said. “The 1,320-foot guarantee for wells would cut us off. We’re the only ones that would be excluded.”
Danke said the proposed mine has already affected the market value of her home.
“Either we could totally lose our water, or it could become contaminated,” Danke said. “It would make our home worthless.”
Coombs said that water issues would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis and that the Zoning Committee would not exclude a single home on the edge of the well guarantee limit if all the other homes in its neighborhood were included.
“I believe the committee would make it a condition of a conditional use permit,” Coombs said.
The proposed ordinance also prohibits mines within 1,320 feet from the boundary of a platted subdivision.
However, it does permit a mining operation within 500 feet of a single dwelling.
Several ISC members asked why the limit for rural homes was not the same as for subdivisions.
Coombs said there is a difference between an area where there are one or two farms and a more densely populated subdivision.
She noted that if the ordinance required that sand mines be at least 1,320 feet from all homes, there would be no land available in the county for sand mines to operate.
Art Richardson, an IPC member from the town of Lind, asked if the ordinance could include baseline measurements for health issues and property values.
“A baseline health of everybody in the area? We can’t do that,” Brown said.
Richardson responded that the mine’s impact on property values could be quantified.
Craig added that the committee should recommend that a future ordinance deal with the issue of property values.
On several occasions during the meeting, Brown said the purpose of the ordinance was to cover all non-metallic mining operations, He said the average mine is only 14 acres and that writing restrictions focused on large mining operations would hamper small operators, such as farmers getting sand for bedding or the county using sand for road projects.
“I think there should have been two ordinances,” said Kelly Hamilton, of Bear Creek. “One to cover small pits and one to cover large mines.”
She also wanted to increase the well guarantee from 1,320 feet to 2,600 feet.
As with others who spoke Monday, Carol Peterson, of Manawa, recommended two separate sets of regulations for non-metallic mining.
“All of these people are here because of the frac sand issue,” Peterson said.
She noted that she was more concerned by the amount of water used in the frac sand mining process, noting that more than 3,000 galoons of water are used to process a cubic yard of frac sand.
“It’s not an endless supply,” Peterson said regarding the county’s groundwater. “I had hoped the ad hoc committee would have looked at that issue.”
Stefan Shoup, from the town of Wyoming, asked the other members of the ISC to look at a broader picture regarding frac sand mining.
Pointing to global climate change, Shoup noted that CO2 emissions are increasing so rapidly that “it’s going to drive us, perhaps, to extinction.”
He said the natural gas that is being forced out of the earth through hydrofracturing should be left in the ground.
“We’re on a finite planet,” Shoup said.