Waupaca County’s Planning and Zoning Committee voted Monday, March 9 to extend the moratorium on non-metallic mining permits for another 60 days.
The resolution will go before the Waupaca County Board at its March 17 meeting. If it passes, the moratorium will remain in effect until May.
Waupaca County passed a resolution enacting a one-year moratorium on all new non-metallic mines in September 2013.
The county’s original resolution noted that “many citizens expressed concern over the effects to air quality, water quality, quality of life, and the ability of the county to maintain stable conditions” during public hearings on the proposed 160-acre sand mine in the town of Union.
The moratorium’s purpose was to give the county time to develop a new ordinance for regulating and permitting sand mines and gravel pits.
The resolution for the moratorium also included the creation of an ad hoc committee to collect and analyze information and make recommendations for the new non-metallic mining ordinance that “properly addresses all necessary concerns.”
Because the ad hoc committee did not have the ordinance completed within a year, the moratorium was extended for six months in 2014. The extension was set to expire in March 2015.
Ryan Brown, the county planning and zoning director, said the ordinance was still not 100 percent completed and the county was “kind of under the gun.”
“We decided the best course of action is to try to slow it down a little bit,” Brown said.
Brown has been meeting with Andrew Phillips, a Mequon attorney who specializes in state and municipal government, to finalize the procedural details of the ordinance.
Brown said the attorney had advised him that the county could not extend the moratorium again.
Several citizens who believe the proposed ordinance does not adequately address the environmental and economic concerns associated with industrial sand mining had asked for another extension. They argued that town boards and county residents needed more time to review the details of the ordinance.
The ad hoc committee approved a proposed non-metallic mining ordinance in January of this year.
Brown said the attorney believed the county was being reasonable in extending the moratorium another 60 days “given the set of circumstances we’re under.”
He noted that there were no pending permit applications for sand mining operations.
While the county granted a permit to the proposed sand mine in Union, that permit is currently being challenged in court.
Citizens request more input
During public input at Monday’s Planning and Zoning Committee meeting, Kay Ellis asked about changes that citizens and towns wanted to be made to the proposed ordinance.
Ellis said she was appalled that the committee was not addressing the concerns that had been raised at earlier meetings and public hearings.
“Why did we all come to a public hearing if you’re not going to discuss it?” Ellis asked.
Brad Milliken said one of the issues raised at the public hearing had been a sand mine’s impact on area property values. He said the ordinance does not address that problem.
Bob Ellis also noted that the ordinance provides “no financial protections for the people who live next to a sand mine.”
He predicted that the county board would not pass a proposed ordinance that provided inadequate protections for local property values.
Carol Peterson said the ad hoc committee had failed to discuss and research the issues for which it was established: “air quality, water quality and quality of life.”
“I’m not sure people are truly being heard or they’re being heard and ignored,” Peterson said.
She said the ad hoc committee never heard how the rapid, unregulated growth of frac sand mining affected the residents and communities in western Wisconsin.
“I’ve made sure everybody has had an opportunity to be heard,” said Jack Penney, chair of the Planning and Zoning Committee, noting that the ad hoc committee has been meeting more than a year.
“No ordinance is perfect,” Penney said, adding that once a sand mine is operating the zoning department and the zoning committee can review the situation, respond to complaints and amend the ordinance to address unforeseen issues.
Peterson replied that once a large, multinational corporation opens an industrial sand mine here, Waupaca County will have little control over its operations or how it affects the quality of water and air.
Several others at the meeting asked the Planning and Zoning Committee to strengthen the ordinance’s langauge that protects water quality.
Tania Wadzinski noted that the proposed ordinance currently reads, “As part of the Conditional Use Permit, the Planning and Zoning Copmmittee may require a qualified person to conduct a hydrologic study of the site if the mining activity will occur below the groundwater level.”
She recommended that the word “may” be changed to “should” or “shall.”
“Are we trying to make this ordinance so stringent that nobody will be able to open a mine in Waupaca County?” Penney asked.
DuWayne Federwitz, a committee member and county supervisor, said if the county makes its regulations too restrictive, the state would step in and take authority over non-metallic away from the county.
Another public hearing on the proposed ordinance will be held after the final draft is finished. It will then go to the Waupaca County Board for a vote in May.