Frac Sand’s Impacts on Wisconsin

5/22/2013 12:20:00 PM
Sand continues to have impact

The Rice Lake Chronotype

Spring is here and there’s a flurry of activity on the frac sand front at both the state and local levels.
A new railroad loading facility on the east edge of Weyerhaeuser is moving forward. That will be used by Canadian Sand & Proppant. That company originally planned to haul sand from its Barron County mine near Hwy. 8 to Ladysmith, but then the Canadian National railroad resurrected the tracks from Ladysmith to Almena, meaning Canadian Sand can make a railroad connection much closer to the mine and significantly cut its trucking costs. Reducing trucking miles also helps the environment by reducing heavy truck traffic and the associated problems with noise and diesel emissions.
In the southern part of the county, the Town of Sioux Creek has reached a deal with Superior Silica Sand for a proposed mine there. Two mines are proposed in Sioux Creek, a 580-acre mine owned by Superior Silica and a 900-acre mine owned by Sioux Creek Sand. The township reached a deal with Sioux Creek Sand earlier.
Mines are also operating in nearby Dovre, with three processing plants operating along Hwy. SS in Barron County. There’s also a large processing plant operating on Hwy. 8 about 4 miles west of Barron in the Town of Clinton.
The Town of Arland was an early hot spot for mining, with another mine expected to start there on 7 1/2 St. The ownership of that mine is apparently changing from 10K International to Superior Silica Sand, which is also the owner of the Clinton processing plant.
Closer to Rice Lake, property transfers bordering Cameron’s south side near the railroad track indicate there may be a frac sand rail loading site there in the future.
On the political front, the spring elections brought anti-mining candidates in several Barron County townships, but the local elections turned out to be a mixed bag with neither faction showing a decisive win.
In the meantime, a study was released last week showing that mining usually results in boom and bust cycles while having a negative impact on the environment. That study was commissioned by the Wisconsin Towns Association, Wisconsin Farmers Union and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. It was written by Thomas Power, a professor emeritus in the Economics Department of the University of Montana. The study states that frac sand mining will likely have the same boom and bust cycle here as mining has had elsewhere. “Mining, processing, and transporting the sand promises economic benefits for some parts of the population while imposing business, environmental, and social costs on other parts of the population,” states the report.
At the state level, Gov. Scott Walker’s 2013-2015 budget proposes two Department of Natural Resources positions devoted to monitoring sand activity; the DNR had requested 10 positions.
A briefing paper written by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau as part of that discussion states that in August the DNR estimated there were 54 active mines or processing plants involved in sand statewide, but by April that number had risen to 105 industrial sand mines and 65 sand processing plants.
Embedded in the swirl of activity are ongoing questions about the costs and benefits of sand mining. While those answers are being sorted out, the industry continues to grow.

[The editorials that appear weekly in this space are the views of the newspaper as determined by The Chronotype’s editorial board. All editorials are written by one or more members of the board, which consists of Warren Dorrance, Sam Finazzo, Gene Prigge and Eileen Nimm.]

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