A new and comprehensive study on frac sand mining was released Wednsesday featuring input from a local man.Tom Quinn is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, a statewide membership organization working to support family farms and rural communities.
Quinn explains that the “frac mining industry will have a significant impact on rural communities – both positive and negative, and too often economic studies focus only on the positive impacts. Citizens need better data and better tools for evaluating all impacts and understanding how they balance with community needs. The history of mining as a source of long-term economic stability is generally very poor. It is argued that frac mining will be different, but communities need to evaluate this promise with open eyes.”
The new study suggests that communities considering frac sand mining should ask questions such as “What will be the costs to other economic activities?” and “What will be the environmental impact of these activities?”
The fear of many people in Glenwood City is that in the rush to pass a new mining ordinance these types of common sense questions are not being considered by the City Council. Residents also ask the council to visit New Auburn, only 40 minute east of Glenwood City, to witness a frac sand district first hand.
[WI Voices followed that advice and captured this video of Brenda Tabor-Adams in 2012, who lives in a New Auburn frac sand district with her family.] Continue reading
“No action was taken,” in reference to a new nonmetallic mining ordinance for the city, explained the Glenwood City Clerk.Both the existing and the new proposed mining ordinances are slated to be discussed at the next regular council meeting on May 6, 2013.
In the meantime, there was a discussion about a joint citizen/city council group forming in order to take a more collaborative look at the contentious issue of frac sand mining in their community.
Even though a late blizzard inundated the area with freezing rain and sleet, the meeting still drew between 30-40 community members.Thomas Quinn, a board member from neighboring Dunn County, reportedly offered examples of his county’s nonmetallic mining ordinance as a reasonable example for Glenwood City to consider moving forward.
The council listened to concerned citizens before deciding to table the issue.
Audio of the 4/18/13 Glenwood City Council Meeting here:
Original Post: 4/15/13
Mayor John Larson has confirmed that the City has authorized the Bakke Norman Law Firm from New Richmond and Menomonie to draft a new nonmetallic mining ordinance for Glenwood City. A special meeting, open to the public, is scheduled for April 18, 2013 at 7:00 pm at the Community Center in Glenwood City, WI.
City clerk Shari Rosenow explained that the agenda has not yet been set for this special session of the city council. However, potential items on the agenda include “discussion of possible action to approve a new nonmetallic mining ordinance” and “discussion of possible action to repeal existing nonmetallic mining ordinance”.
Locals Scott Teigen and members of the Crosby family are co-applicants with Texas company Vista Sand. In the summer of 2012, the initial Special Exemption application was submitted for approval through St. Croix County to allow operation of a frac sand mine ¼ mile from the public school. However, County staff has determined the application to be incomplete at this time. WI Voices previously interviewed St. Croix County’s Land Use and Conservation Specialist, Alex Blackburn, who has now explained that the county is “still working with Vista Sand on getting the required information.”
At a special meeting in February (shown in the video), Teigen explained that they were still pursuing the County application. However, as a “Plan B” they are requesting that Glenwood City annex the property and assume control of the frac sand mine permitting process. Teigen estimated that the direct benefit to the city could be up to $250,000 annually and potentially 50-60 jobs. Glenwood City Mayor John Larson advised the City Council, “Are all mines run right? No… But I think it can be done right and this body needs to at least take that into consideration.”
Some area residents are concerned that this move by the city may be a step toward authorizing the controversial “Vista Mine”. Small business owner Jim Laskin is troubled by the speed with which the city is moving on this is issue. Calling annexation ““flat-out irresponsible”, he questions “Why, exactly, is Glenwood City in a better position to monitor a 500 acre open-pit silica sand mine and processing facility than the county that has to have 100 times the resources of little Glenwood City?”
Town of Glenwood County Supervisor Barry Peterson also commented on the April 18 meeting, “I’m concerned about the annexation. The potential zoning ordinance (under consideration by the City Council) seems like it is a little weak and we may need to be adopting a more thorough ordinance.”
With over 100 frac sand mining and processing sites, Wisconsin is now the leading supplier of frac sand in the nation. But are companies operating in our state complying with regulations? According to a recent report, about 90% of sites visited by the DNR were issued letters of noncompliance, and nearly 20% of active frac sand mines and processing plants were cited for environmental violations.
This record is troubling for people when a mining company proposes coming to their town.
So at WIvoices.org, we’ve brought you a condensed video version of a small town meeting on frac sand mining. You will hear the concerns of people debating the pros and cons of annexing a proposed frac sand mining site to Glenwood City, WI. This meeting was held on February 25, 2013 and was informational, since no formal annexation request had been submitted prior to the meeting, and no action was taken by the city council.
Over 70 people attended the public meeting in the village of 1200, even with short notice. The purpose of the public meeting in Glenwood City last night, as explained by Mayor John Larson, was “to hear Scott’s (Teigen) presentation” to the city council proposing that his land be annexed in order to begin frac sand mining on his property. Currently, a mining application for the “Vista Mine” which would allow mining on Teigen’s property is under review by St. Croix County. Teigen called the proposed annexation by the city, which would circumvent county review, his “Plan B” to move forward with the mine.
Looking over the large crowd, Mayor John Larson joked that Friday’s public posting for this meeting “apparently worked”. This elicited few laughs in the group with several openly complaining that the posting was poorly placed, given short notice, and contained vague details about the meeting.
Council members voted to open up the meeting to comments from the crowd, with a 60 minute time limit stipulation. Sixteen members of the public cited an opinion on annexation with 13 speaking against and 3 supporting annexation. With hands in the air, Mayor Larson called the meeting to a close.
Check back with WIvoices.org for full coverage of the meeting to come.
WI Voices, Inc., gives the people of Wisconsin opportunities to share their stories about real life impacts of public policy choices. We’re thankful for your support of our work at WIvoices.org over the past two years! Please consider supporting our work at WIvoices.org as we move into our third year. CLICK HERE
With your help so far, we’ve accomplished a lot:
We’ve published our 25th interview! Our videos have been called “prime time quality”
Over 70,000 hits on our stories!
Our interviews have been picked up by MSNBC, Huffington Post, Salon, Slyin the Morning, EcoWatch, WisPolitico, Open Salon editor’s pick, Hudson Patch, Rivertowns, and more
Diversity – We’ve recorded the stories of farmers to correctional officers, inner city to reservations, social services to business owners, teachers to students
Relevancy – We’ve helped the public understand how public policy choices affect our families, our communities and our state
But what we are most thankful for this year, is what the people we interviewed had to say about their experience with WI Voices, Inc.
“Not only is WI Voices wonderfully produced , all involved take the time to get the story being covered in its entirety , check and recheck the facts, and make sure people are comfortable with the final product, before it goes out to the public. The result, all the comments I hear are glowing, and I can honestly say I got comments from all over the country and in fact the world….It’s an impressive effort that deserves support.”
“WI Voices gave me the opportunity to share my story in a positive, fair way. There was no media spin. No leading questions. Just a format for everyday people to tell their story! This is exactly what we need in today’s media! Thank you for listening and publishing WI Voices!”
“WI Voices was a great experience. It has given different perspectives of people throughout the state with different points of view. Not everyone has the same issues to deal with and WI Voices is good at pointing that out.”
“WI Voices did just what its name suggests…it allowed John and me to have a voice. Heidi and Art allowed us to tell our story as we saw fit and when we were done, they artfully shared with the community as a whole. As a result of our work with WI Voices our voter ID struggle got national press and helped to begin a nation-wide conversation. WI Voices is top-notch story-telling, it is journalism at its very best.”
Small business owner, Brenda Tabor-Adams, lives with her husband and 2-year-old son in a silica frac sand mining district between New Auburn and Chetek, WI. They are surrounded by mines. Two separate facilities are within a third of a mile and three more are within one mile of her once-quiet, rural property. In addition, several more mines are proposed or already operating nearby. Brenda’s clients now compete with 1,000 sand trucks per day, or 20 trucks every 15 minutes, in order to get their horse trailers in and out of her property. With trucks running for 12 hours/day, 6 days/week, her life has been turned upside down. Dismissed as “collateral damage” by local officials, she fears for the environmental impact, the health of her family and neighbors and the sustainability of her small business. Tabor-Adams also details troubling issues that regular people face when dealing with multimillion dollar mining companies, including lawyers threatening lawsuits, town and county boards “stacked” with pro-sand officials, and the understaffing and underfunding of the Department of Natural Resources tasked to protect the land and the people. Brenda says, “Our government has failed us miserably…”
Here’s her story.
Video Highlights from Tabor-Adams:
“I’m stuck here in this house and they won’t… [choking up with tears, hand over mouth]…they won’t help us out.”
While interviewing Jim Laskin about frac sand mining in Glenwood City, he was insistent that we travel 40 miles east to witness a full-fledged silica frac sand mining district enveloping New Auburn, WI. With 7 mines within a 5 mile radius, we decided to take Jim’s advice. So, we loaded up our camera gear and hit the road. The sand rush is transforming Wisconsin in many ways. With 87 operational mines and dozens more proposed, we wanted to experience what it felt like to live in one of those areas.
It was a mostly clear, warm September day. Most of the drive was what one would expect in rural Wisconsin in early fall: corn fields tall and near harvest, green rolling hills, landscape littered with farm houses and silos, occasional deer grazing near the wooded edges, and birds of all kinds abundant.
Then we came around a rolling curve and the landscape abruptly changed. This was the first frac sand hill we discovered, so we stopped our car to film it. There was what can best be described as an invisible film in the air. I could feel it on my lips almost immediately. The substance was tasteless, yet I compulsively licked it off and spit it in the ditch every few minutes. Within 20 minutes any bare skin on my body felt dirty, yet I still couldn’t see anything.
So I decided to run my hand across the hood of the car. There it was. This is the amount of dust collected on the hood of our car parked for 25 minutes, 1/4 mile away, from a silica frac sand mine near New Auburn, WI.
Glenwood City, WI small business owner, Jim Laskin, owns The Café on the main street in town. He serves a homemade meal with organic coffee along with information and updates to people about the newest developments with mining in their community. The oil and gas hydrofracking industry has discovered that Wisconsin has the most premium silica sand in the nation. Strong and spherical, this desirable dusty sand is mined and shipped out of our state by the millions of tons, where it is utilized to prop open the earth for gas and oil extraction elsewhere.
Within just a few years, our state experienced an increase from 3 silica sand mines to 80, with 40 more proposed. What troubles many citizens with sand fracking coming to their communities is the passage of Wisconsin’s 2011 WI Act 144. This law limits the authority of local government to enact a moratorium in order to slow the process down so that citizens may study the effects on the people and the land. This is significant to Laskin, who tells us that he may eventually be boxed in by mines on 3 sides of his rural farm. In addition, one of these mining companies has taken the bold step of proposing a 480 acre open-pit mine in a residential area, next to the public school, in Glenwood City.
Laskin gives us an inside look into a community overwhelmingly opposed to silica frac sand mining within their city limits. He admits that he wasn’t always concerned about mining. But now he says, “I didn’t really have a choice.”
Local small business owner, Jim Laskin, is an unofficial local expert on frac sand mining in Glenwood City. Laskin owns one of the only restaurants in this small west-central Wisconsin community. Located in a town with a population of 1,251 people, The Café emotes more of an uptown vibe than you’d expect, decorated with South American blankets and serving organic, free-trade coffee.
Mike Wiggins Jr.,Tribal Chairman of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, has frequently been in the news over the last couple of years for comment on the contentious mining issue in Wisconsin. Gogebic Taconite Mining (GTac) proposed creating $1.5 billion open pit mine in the Penokee Mountains, a scant 6 miles upstream from the northern reservation on which he lives with his family. Not only is this land protected by federal treaties, but it has also been internationally recognized with both Ramsar and Blue Gold awards. Wiggins has spoken to numerous media sources and committees (in fact he received two other calls from media while we were with him); but the spin and snippets that have made it to the general public have not been reflective of his entire point of view. He was also given limited time and interrupted by a buzzer as he testified before the state’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC). Currently, new legislation is being considered which would seek to replace the failed mining bill which prompted GTac to leave the state in March 2012. Wiggins explains the comprehensive issues with mining in the Penokees from many perspectives including: scientific, water, tourism and tribal views. As Wiggins emphasized, ” we’ve been trying to relay our story, relay our voice…”
On Feb 17, 2012 you testified before the JFC about AB 426/SB 488 about problems with metallic mining. The bill was defeated shortly after that in a 17-16 vote, so why is there still concern?
“Well the concern is that we are seeing maneuvering coming out of Madison that is centering around the same outcomes that we saw legislative initiatives looking to do this past year. And that outcome is essentially the reformation of mining law here in WI. The mining law that was defeated this past year is still sitting on the shelf, and one of the concerns that I have is the fact that Tim Sullivan is leading a kinder, gentler, more inclusive round table effort to roll it out again…this is a concern in and of itself. Why? Because when it is all sifted away, the geologic composition [of the proposed mining site] and the negative environmental impact that would come with mountain top removal would be on the doorstep of our reservation.
That legislation was defeated, but yet to watch it in it’s infancy to start manifesting itself all over again…it’s been difficult.
What has also been very difficult is that over this past year we’ve been trying to relay our story, relay our voice and relay our need for science to accompany the type of decision-making points that the Madison legislators had to consider. All of that was a very emotional journey, because it was us trying to defend ourselves…us trying to protect ourselves from a land perspective and from a water perspective for our future generations…so.”
At the beginning of testimony before the JFC, you asked that your voices “not be minimized and discounted”. Has that been your experience?
“Well, I think fundamentally speaking…the way I look at this is through a filter of environmental justice. We are a small sovereign nation that is 6 miles down wind and down stream from this mining project, so we will be directly impacted in our home. With that being said, it is very simplistic logic. I think of it as neighbors.
If the types of activities in my yard have the potential of causing physical landscape changes to you and your yard – that’s going to be something that I’m going to think through. But more than that, if the types of activities that I am going to be doing in my yard have the potential of causing negative health impacts to you and your children…then we have to visit the wisdom of those types of activities…because my activities would be harming you and others. Wouldn’t you see that as simplistic logic?
I’ve seen this issue with WI in the same way. Not only did we see a disregard for our small indigenous nation here, but we saw legislative initiatives that essentially gave extractive industries, and in this case – GTac, a free pass on environmental degradation. There may not have technically been a weakening of a lot of environmental regulations, but there was a component where extractive industries would not have to be held accountable to the laws. So it was a clever way of taking a circuitous route around (the laws). Then, when mining initiative confronted environmental law – mining interests would always win.”
Video highlights from Wiggins: “Another thing to consider was the absence of science this past year as the legislators debated the mining bill.”
“So in the spirit of transparency, I encourage the mining company to open those core samples up and let’s have some science drive the dialogue, Wisconsin deserves that.”
We received a phone call mid afternoon on July 2 that Mr. Wiggins had time for a brief interview the following day. We jumped at the chance, cleared our calendars and planned logistics for the 3 hour drive further north in Wisconsin. Like most people, we were interested in his views on the proposed mine near the reservation. The fast track mining legislation failed in a slim 17-16 margin in March; however there are indications that this battle is far from over. We were also interested in his views about the environment, tribal sovereignty and treaties, and other public policy choices that affect the Bad River people.
Mike Wiggins Jr.,Tribal Chairman of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe.
A brief introductory interview before hitting the field.
Wiggins shows us the topographical map outlining the many tributaries that run through the Bad River Reservation on their way to Lake Superior. Of all the wetlands on the Great Lake, 40% of them are on the Bad River Reservation located 6 miles down wind and down stream from the proposed open-pit iron-ore mine in the Penokee Hills.
Below is the full verbatim interview of veteran teacher Meg Farrington. The Somerset School District took a collaborative approach in their educational policy over the past couple of years. The school board not only included administrators and the public in their decision-making, but teachers as well when they were no longer required to do so by law. Her story is a stunning tale of a community pulling together in a crisis.
Stephanie Kline resigned from her position as an 8th grade math teacher at New Richmond Middle School in Wisconsin. Her last day of teaching is June 6, 2012. A final straw for Kline came when her 5-year-old son was refused services at her New Richmond Clinic for an outstanding medical bill accrued this past year. Her medical deductible increased $3,500 coupled with a salary decrease of $2000 in the 2011-2012 school year. The decreasing ability to support her family, along with stress, uncertainty, and lack of communication has pushed her out of the teaching profession. Her story may resonate with many workers around the state who have experienced changes in their profession due to public policy choices. However, Kline’s story is a personal one. She states several times throughout this interview that she is “only speaking for myself, and not other teachers.”
Kim Wojchik is the Executive Director at Turningpointin River Falls for victims of domestic and sexual violence. They served 797 people in 2011 who came to them from either Pierce or St. Croix County [Western Wisconsin]. She has seen government funding to her facility decrease by 15% over the past few years, and funding for the sexual abuse program has been eliminated entirely. However, with hard work and tremendous help from the community, Turningpoint has been able to “stabilize” for now. In order to do that, they needed to make tough choices that were previously not desirable. For example, Wojchik has increased the time that families can stay in the shelter form 1 to 3 months because they “literally don’t have anything to leave to…where 3 years ago they did”.
WIvoices.org has removed this statement at the end of this article: “According to Farrington, this has come to fruition as every couple of weeks “there is no food left for the backpack program…so the teachers (help with) that.”
Farrington was referring to the recent across the board state cuts affecting the backpack program, not to specific cuts to her school district. Furthermore, teachers use their own time and money to offset the cuts. WIvoices.org is responsible for all the information in this article.
Meg Farrington (29-year veteran teacher from Somerset, WI) explains that some students are struggling with hunger in school and how teachers have “stepped up to the plate” to bridge the gap and fill the need in the community. Farrington said “because of Governor Walker’s cuts” at the state level, consequences in policy choices have become reality for the most vulnerable children in rural Wisconsin.
For instance, public school districts have a cooperative agreement with social services to feed hungry children through a “backpack program” in which children are given food to take home over the weekend. I contacted Duana Bremer (local Director of Social Services) for comment, “the demand keeps going up and everything is more difficult”. Her crew packs over 900 backpacks/week for hungry children and issued a press release detailing the need in the community. Before this backpack program, teachers and nurses reported that some children were “begging” for food, experiencing stomach issues, and were “agitated” and unable to learn due to hunger related issues. The backpack program eliminated these issues; however, due to budget cuts the program is now threatened.
WIvoices.org previously interviewed Bremer, on July 30, 2011 about this issue. At that time, Bremer worried that the backpack program would suffer due to the cuts at the state level.
Well into the evening, I met Bob Beglinger and his wife Sheryl after they had been on the road for several days. Bob is a member of the citizen’s group called POWRS Committee (Protect Our Wisconsin Retirement System). He has been busy traveling around the state speaking to concerns that the state government may be taking steps to alter the fully-funded system, which serves 572,000 Wisconsinites. The WRS has been copied by innumerable entities, both foreign and domestic, so Bob questions the motives behind changing such a coveted system. He is not only an advocate for present and future retirees, but after serving the public for 34 years as a state worker, Bob is a WRS member himself.
Hundreds of thousands of protestors have descended on the Capitol in Madison, WI in the last year. Tens of thousands of volunteers have mobilized petition drives, meetings, and rallies in their own communities. Numerous reports in the media cite “dislike” of Gov. Walker or single issue reasons such as the collective bargaining roll back as driving factors fueling the recall. Although these reasons would be legally sufficient under Wisconsin’s constitutional right to recall, I have found public discontent to be much more multifaceted than these often used examples. After 8 months of collecting interviews and posting reports from people around the state, I have found the issues to be as diverse as the people themselves. Continue reading
This is the 3rd (and final) part of a series of interviews from the Walker recall kick off rally in Madison, WI, November 19, 2011. Read the first part of the series HEREand the second part HERE.
These bagpipers from the firefighter’s union have not missed a single Madison rally. In the crowd of 40,000, I was fortunate enough to make my way right up next to them as they circled the Capitol. I captured this inspiring bagpipeaudio. As you listen, it feels like you are right in the crowd, eavesdropping on side conversations and struggling to hear over the cheers of bystanders. The crowd followed, sang, and played makeshift instruments along with them at times.
I randomly interviewed people in the crowd. I was surprised by the number of people who were at the rally primarily supporting other people. Being minimally affected themselves by recent public policy changes, some people were advocating for the preservation of the legacy of Wisconsin.
Capitol in Madison during the Walker kick off rally, November 19, 2011.
This is the 2nd of a 3 part series of interviews from that day. Read the first part of the series HERE.
I stood silently on one of the corner streets of the Capitol scanning the diverse, demonstrative crowd. Speakers were rallying the crowd from the Capitol steps while thousands listened and cheered. Ragtag bands circled the block chanting the seemingly required rally song, “This is What Democracy Looks Like”. Homemade signs carried by children, parents, uniformed workers, and wheel chaired elders bobbed up and down in every direction, blocking my view except for short periods of time. The most noticeable difference between this rally and Farmer’s rally in March 2011, was the greatly improved food selection. Hours of wait time was no longer required as make shift vendors, offering everything from burgers to egg rolls, lined the streets around the capitol and proudly displayed their support of the protestors with signs such as this one.