Residents claim a right to vote on issues concerning frac sand mining in their community. But will they get it?
That’s the billion-dollar question facing the Glenwood area residents in the western Wisconsin community. ”Screws are coming loose,” says one local who claims people are desperately fighting for their way life against a frac sand payout that may be worth a staggering $1.5 billion.
People wondered if they would be heard as they presented the Glenwood City Council with a petition Monday night requesting a referendum vote before the council moves to annex 400 acres of farmland into city limits.
A referendum would allow residents to vote on whether their city should annex the Teigen/Crosby land next to the public school in order to allow TX company Vista Sand to operate a silica frac sand mine in that location.
Nearly an hour of lively, oftentimes passionate, public comment was followed by a presentation by the former Glenwood City High School Principal, Julian Bender. Bender inquired of each council member individually, “I ‘m asking for you to schedule an agenda item at the next meeting to discuss the action item ‘Shall we have a referendum on annexation?’ ”
Bender continued by saying that the purpose of the referendum petition is to demonstrate to the city council that the community “wants to be involved.”
[WIvoices.org will be producing a video with Julian Bender's presentation and the council members' responses. Check back soon for full coverage of this exchange.]
Council member Crystal Booth requested that the agenda item be added to the September 2013 city council’s agenda.
But it took a while for the meeting to get to this point – community comments came first.
The first 15 minutes of the August 12, 2013 city council meeting was spent addressing the complaints of the tightly packed group. Due to the change of venue from the considerably larger Community Center to the smaller Municipal Building, more than 40 people attempted to fit inside the small space. Some had to wait outside, and tempers flared.
The first speaker asserted, “I wish you would have accommodated your citizens, who voted for you, with enough chairs. You have 33 people standing here!”
Without enough chairs, some people leaned against walls for support. Members of the crowd closest to the door held it wide open for the overflow residents to listen from outdoors. We were so tightly packed in that the WIvoices.org crew scarcely had room for our camera equipment – a seated police officer asking us, “Are you going to block my view?”
Mayor John Larson later responded to complaints about limited space by saying, “Did we know there was going to be a group here? No… I don’t get on Facebook or know all the local gossip...”
Larson’s remarks were not well received, instead met with audible gasps, sarcastic laughter, and a few shouts of “Come on!”
Local man, Thomas Quinn who was representing the Village of nearby Downing, calmly remarked, “There has a been a sizable amount of people at all of these meetings. Maybe if you wanted to make people feel comfortable, you would’ve had it down there” [gesturing toward the larger Community Building].
Another citizen stepped forward and gestured to the council, “How about the rest of the council? You all live here, obviously. Didn’t you know we’d all show up?”
“I’ll agree to that,” answered City Council member Ben DeGross.
Council member Terry Klinger asked the crowd, “Are you all hear to listen to Julian Bender talk?” [who was going to present the people's referendum petition]
The crowd responded in the affirmative, someone calling out, “Give them the petition!”
Much talking in the crowd ensued here.
“How about one person talk at a time? You are disrespecting us [the city council]…I don’t appreciate it,” responded Klinger.
Resident Helen Quinn broke in to say that she wanted to speak very respectfully. “I’ve read the Bill of Rights and we do have a right to speak up. I respect you [city council] and what you are doing, but we aren’t doing anything wrong….if some of us sound inflamed it’s because we are scared.”
In a move of accommodation, Mayor Larson asked Julian Bender if he would prefer to speak earlier than scheduled. Bender replied that he would appreciate speaking earlier. The mayor and the city council then agreed to move Bender’s presentation of the petition for a referendum from item #13 to item #5, which immediately opened up the floor to the public.
Public comments then shifted away from the cramped quarters, and focused on the people’s fears of a potential frac sand mine nearby.
Despite obvious tension surrounding this issue, citizen comments often began with thanking the council for their service and ended with urging the council to listen to his/her concerns before moving forward with any decisions concerning frac sand mining. Passion balanced with small town manners was the norm.
A particularly powerful point in the meeting came when a mother presented her 12-yr-old daughter to the council, also addressing landowner Scott Teigen and Vista Sand attorney Anders Helquist, who were both standing nearby. She asked them all to look at her daughter and promise that her health would not be harmed by the effects of a silica frac sand mine operating ¼ mile from the school she attends.
Helquist did not respond to the woman or look at her directly, but appeared to be taking notes. Later on, the attorney promised the crowd that “Vista Sand’s door is always open…I’ll be around after the meeting“.
Other citizens asked the council to remember their duty to serve and protect citizens, rather than interests such as big oil and outside money.
Another common theme echoed the tenants of democracy – in that the community has a right to vote on issues important to them.
Many people expressed that they “didn’t have anything against mining”, but the location next to the public school of 650 children and 200 staff is not the right choice.
Others commented on the inability or unwillingness of the council to give proper notice for meetings along with the agenda for those meetings.
Several residents had friends and family living in or near other mining operations and shared troubling stories about health, unfair deals, and a lack of promised money.
Numerous health concerns associated with frac sand mining were shared.
Another common request of the council was that they write a mining ordinance that focused on the needs of the residents, rather than on the needs of Vista Sand.
Several residents also reminded the City Counsel and Mayor Larson that annexing land would also transfer St. Croix County’s regulatory responsibilities to the City. This would nullify the voices in surrounding communities such as Downing and the Towns of Glenwood, Emerald, and Springfield who would deal with the effects of a silica frac sand mining as well.
Check back with WIvoices.org. Full audio, video clips, and written statements from the crowd and council during the August 12, 2013 City Council meeting will be published soon.
WIvoices.org has been closely following this story. Get up to speed:
Inside a Town Meeting on Frac Sand Mining; 3/8/13
County official comments on Frac Mine; 1/24/13
Frac Sand Mine Proposed Near School; 9/20/12
The Huffington Post report on Glenwood City frac sand; 6/1/13
Want More Information? See WIvoices.org’s Reference Document
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