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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
Tami Weber has lived in Wisconsin’s Senate District 10 her entire life. Now in her forties, she grew up in the late Senator Gaylord Nelson’s village – Clear Lake. Tami now lives in a modest apartment in River Falls. She told me that due to impending budgetary cuts in Gov. Walker’s Budget Repair Bill, supported by Senator Harsdorf, she may soon find herself living in a nursing home. You see, Tami is quadriplegic. And the changes coming at the state level are eroding the structure upon which Tami’s life is based.
UPDATE: November 2011 – Frank was terminated from BadgerCare and is now without health insurance.
Original Post: May 11, 2011
“Frank” is a 60-yr-old Wisconsin man. He’s a single, self-employed contractor who works on homes after they have been foreclosed. He has several grown children and small grandchildren, some whom were running around or jumping on his lap during our interview. Frank is a classic Midwesterner of his generation in many ways. For instance, his most passionate points of the day referred to his love for The Green Bay Packers. He would’ve been content to stay on the football topic for much longer. He’s also typical in his willingness to help others while uncomfortable complaining about his own situation. For this reason, he wished to remain anonymous. Frank told me that he is about to lose his state-funded BadgerCare insurance for low income Wisconsinites. Approximately 63,000 residents around the state share his predicament.