|Barron News Shield|
Arland residens question suport for sand mine
By: Eric Quade
During a town of Arland meeting held Thursday evening, members of the board defended a vote of support they had given to a sand mining proposal a few weeks prior.
Their explanations were prompted by some area residents attending the Jan. 8 meeting who spoke during public comment, criticizing the vote and pressing town officials for more information about the proposal.
Most of the prospective sand mine debate came during the meeting’s public comment session. Town officials prefaced public comment by implementing a 3-minute limit per speaker. Out of the roughly 20 people in the audience, three initially announced their intention to speak. The imposed time limit would later draw complaints from some members of the public in attendance.
The first to speak during public comment was Mike Harvey of Prairie Farm. Harvey said that he had personally researched the issues related to sand mining, and he was concerned about the potential harm such an operation could bring to the area.
“Frac sand mining and processing the sand is not good for rural America for a number of social, economic and environmental reasons,” he said. “This includes potential groundwater depletion, air and water pollution and potentially there could be some substances like lead and arsenic in the environment.
“Townships that are not zoned and do not have ordinances specifically related to mining should do so immediately to protect themselves from possible abuse by companies as a result of a lack of such regulation.
Harvey said that Arland’s economy would be burdened by road damage from increased truck traffic such a mining operation would bring, and most of the profits from the mine would likely not stay in the community.
He asked town officials to table any future mining requests until several criteria could be met: Drafting local regulations on mining, investigating the possibility of implementing zoning and also reviewing the reputation of any party interested in opening a mine in the area.
Next to speak was Vickie Bown of Prairie Farm. Bown expressed her concern that town officials would not be taking questions during the public comment, since they said the session was geared for only collecting public sentiment.
“I just wanted to know more about [the mine proposal]. All I’ve heard is rumors and some things I read in the paper,” she said. “It’s up to us to be informed citizens, and that’s why I’m here tonight. I’m quite disappointed I can’t ask any questions either.”
Bown said she was worried about the impact a sand mine could have on the local environment and general living conditions. She quoted Mel Bollom (one of the consultants who had previously informed town officials about the sand mine proposal) as saying that living next to a sand mine is not absolutely terrible, but it’s not great either. Bown said she is concerned about the many negative aspects that a large sand mining operation could bring with it, including increased wear on local roads, silica sand dust, increased noise levels and the effect on land values.
While the sand mining operation may come and go, there are many long-time residents that will remain in the Arland area and their interests need to be addressed, she added.
“So I do have some concerns, but I want to know more about it,” she said. “And I hope you as town board members want to know more about it before you make any big decisions.”
Addressing concerns with the evening’s format, Clerk Pam Fall said that the 3-minute time limit for speakers was pattered after what is done at the Barron County Board of Supervisors with the intent of keeping the meeting moving along. Treasurer Jodene Nelson added that they were going to avoid question and answer sessions on the issue because the town board had limited information about the proposal.
Fall read the minutes from last month’s meeting to clarify what action had been taken pertaining to the prospect of a sand mine being established in the town of Arland.
“After lengthy discussions, Supervisor (Dale) Degerman made a motion to support this process,” Fall said. “A second was made by Chairman (Ray) Rischette. Motion was approved with Robert Nelson abstaining from the vote.”
The treasurer said that the consultants who brought up the sand mine proposal are expected to return to Arland for an informational presentation with a question and answer session before the mining operation proceeds.
A public hearing and notices being sent out to neighboring land owners would also preface this prospective sand mine’s opening, said Supervisor Robert Nelson.
Supervisor Nelson is one of the landowners who’s property has been identified as having a special variety of sand-called frac sand-that is valuable for extracting oil from deep within the ground. He told those present at Thursday’s meeting that he’d like to see the proposal go through because it could stimulate economic development in the area.
Reacting to comments voiced at last week’s meeting, Rischette said that the board does have concerns about the sand mine proposal, but its members don’t have any major objections to it yet. He emphasized that the town can’t dictate who residents sell their land to, and Arland’s major concern-the conditions of local roads-appears to have been addressed, since the proposal provides that any mining firm that comes into town will set aside money for road repair.
Harvey didn’t refute Rischette’s contention that the town has little say about who sells property to who, but he did note that municipalities can draft ordinances that address mining.
Despite intensions to the contrary, public comment at the town board meeting soon appeared to turn into a question and answer session. Many of the inquiries made wanted to know more about the proposal and who was involved.
Supervisor Nelson said he first learned of the proposal for a sand mining facility in the area back in October when some men approached him about either selling his land or the sand on his land.
“In a 600-acre area they drilled four holes, and two of them turned out good,” said the supervisor, referring to testing done for the presence of frac sand. “Initially I think they concentrated along the rail right-of-way between Barron and Almena … They claim they didn’t find adequate material (there).”
The proposal forecasts that the sand mine would last for 20 years and go through about 10 acres per year, Supervisor Nelson said.
He said that the proposal for the town of Arland included not only a sand mine, but also a processing facility. No specific company has been named as having an interest in the proposed sand mining operation, however.
In addition to the identity of any interested companies being unclear, the number of local properties that are being sought for a mining operation also appears to be in question. Initial reports had cited not only Supervisor Nelson’s property as a potential frac sand source, but also property owned by Clerk Fall and others.
Fall said that she understood there had been testing done on her land, but she had never been contacted about anything like that and didn’t see any evidence of test hole boring on her property.
Supervisor Nelson said he had done some following up and was told that no test holes had been dug out at the Fall property.
It was noted earlier in the meeting that the special sand can sometimes be found in plain sight on the ground’s surface.
Fall wrapped up the evening’s discussion about the sand mine proposal by saying that it would eventually require a public hearing at the county level if the plans continued to move forward.