What Is The Cost?
Every sand mine wanting to locate in Wisconsin comes with the promise of jobs. Indeed, the new jobs for Wisconsinites bring money to our state. But the longer I thought about it, the more I wondered if that was not outweighed by all the costs the state and citizens end up paying to support the sand industry.
Our counties are struggling to meet the demands of piles of paperwork, on-site inspections, and time to communicate with potential sand mine operations and the public both privately and in various hearings. Those affected most are county conservation and planning personnel. Additionally, writing ordinances and policies has taken hours from various agencies. Reclamation plans are lengthy and involved. The county often needs help of engineers and lawyers. Town governments have had innumerable meetings to develop and carry out ordinances to protect their citizens. In no way does the money the mines pay for permits and road improvements cover the costs to local governments. The state offers little support, either through the DNR or in budgets. In fact, state funding to counties and townships are been declining steadily, forcing local governments to downsize, leaving fewer personnel to complete all tasks related to a sand mine.
The crowning insult is that the sand mines pay NO royalty or mineral tax (in some instances there may be a sales tax) on any of the sand. Silica sand is a natural resource of Wisconsin. Yet, it is being given away with no return to the state. Many of the mines are part of large corporations that mine the sand and use it for fracking their own oil/gas wells. Thus, the sand is never sold, so no sales tax is paid.
Any other industry sells a product and some monetary compensation comes back to the company where the product was made. A farmer is paid for his product upon its sale out of state. That brings money back into the state. Not so with sand.
I suspect it would be cheaper for the state to hire the truck drivers who haul sand and other workers, putting them to work doing needed infrastructure. That way Wisconsin would gain something instead of being plundered by large sand mine operations that throw silica into the air, release toxins from diesel exhaust, cause residents’ health to deteriorate from the stress of constant lights and noise, and breathing contaminated air. Chemicals may be used in holding ponds. Who knows how long the toxin remains? Sand companies commit violations despite saying they wouldn’t, forcing citizens to hire expensive lawyers to fight their unlimited amounts of money. Citizens spend untold hours attempting to have their complaints addressed, along with trying to understand the content of lengthy permits and what it all means.
The jobs industrial silica operations so often laud as creating are never balanced by the jobs lost due to their destructive operations. Never is the loss of property values included. These losses will continue far into the future as the land surrounding a mine will not be used to develop new homes or businesses. Who wants to live next to one of these mines? They are not aesthetically pleasing so no tourist would ever want to spend time in an area nearby. Health care costs increase to treat asthma, stress, insomnia, etc., when living near a mine or along mine routes. Road safety deteriorates with the addition of truck after truck carrying 80,000 pounds of silica or sand. It is a fallacy that the land will be reclaimed and magically become farmland. It will not. The life of the topsoil is destroyed by moving and piling it. Loose sand moves, preventing establishment of firm land.
Without sand mines to take up nearly all of the time of county conservationists, they could get back to working with farmers and towns on conservation projects. There would be time to respond to citizen complaints and to help farmers develop good practices while farming. They may even find time to write a few grants that would bring money into the county. Health care costs would go down. Highway 35, our river road, would continue to be nationally known for its beauty. Citizens could move on in their lives, concentrating on families and volunteer work. Our hills would continue to be woodlots, a background for fields of corn and alfalfa. Water would be used for people and crops, not to clean sand.
The sand mines have destroyed a physical and emotional quality of life we in rural Wisconsin used to have. The manner in which the sand mines have dumped themselves on our state has left citizens feeling betrayed and angry. Experience has taught citizens you cannot trust the mine nor take mining personnel at their word. Too often money given to schools and the community comes across as nothing but a bribe. Keeping land owners bound to secrecy and the lack of transparency in their operations along with knowingly committing violations has led to a growing mistrust of mining operations. The sand mines make millions upon millions of dollars. Wisconsin and its citizens pay the price. When all the costs to the state, local governments, and citizens are added up, I strongly suspect we are supporting the sand mines in Wisconsin.
April 4, 2013