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La Crosse Tribune:

Trempealeau County OKs silica mine near Blair

By Chris Hubbuch | chubbuch@lacrossetribune.com |Posted: Thursday, June 10, 2010 12:00 am

WHITEHALL - Trempealeau County has approved a silica mining operation near Blair that mine owners claim will bring up to 40 jobs to the area and opponents say will threaten area residents' health, property values and quality of life.

The county's Environment and Land Use Committee voted Wednesday to approve a conditional-use permit that will allow Canadian company Winn Bay Sand to extract an estimated 13.6 million cubic yards of sandstone from a 350-acre site in the town of Preston.

Winn Bay, a limited partnership company that also operates a mine in Saskatchewan, plans to crush and process materials on site to produce fine sand particles used in a natural gas mining process known as hydraulic fracturing.

The permit came with requirements that Winn Bay test wells and structures on neighboring properties, limit blasting to certain hours of the day, and test air quality at the edges of the site.

But the committee voted down a suggestion from land use staff to require the company pay for a third-party environmental study.

Committee Chairman George Brandt cast the lone vote against the permit, saying the decision could fundamentally change the character of Trempealeau County.

About 40 people attended a public hearing that began about 9:30 a.m. and lasted more than six hours. Most opposed the mine, voicing concerns about its potential effects on air and water quality.

Committee members who voted for the permit said almost everyone they heard from before the meeting favored the mine.

Company officials estimate they will mine about 800,000 cubic yards of sand for each of the next 20 years. Jamie Punt, head of sales and business development, said the site is ideal because it sits on a vein of Wonewoc sandstone valued for its spherical particles, is secluded from view, and has access to rail lines.

Dan Lee, who spoke against the permit, worried the mine would destroy the county's scenic beauty - "one of the greatest resources we have" - and that Winn Bay eventually will ship other materials to the site for processing.

Committee member Michael Nelson said while he feels sorry for people affected by the mine, it's difficult to turn down jobs and he trusts Winn Bay to control the dust.

Mine opponent Amy Swanson urged the committee to wait until the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources develops regulations for airborne silica.

"Don't allow a mine without standards or a way to enforce standards," she said.

The company said they hope to start construction in the fall and begin mining by spring 2011.

Source: "The Buzzards Have Landed" by: Roscoe Churchill and Laura Furtman 


Summarized by CCC:

Tactics Used by Mining Companies
When facing Opposition from the Community

Excerpts and summaries from:

Mining companies learn from the success of grassroots groups
who oppose them and adjust their strategy accordingly.



By Al Gedicks, Sociology

University of Wisconsin - La Crosse

1. Thwart Local Democratic Control

“Before mining companies can receive permits to mine in Wisconsin, they must have the approval of local units of government --a major obstacle for [mining companies].”

Mining companies seek to keep the people out of the process by bringing local leaders and company officials together to negotiate a ‘local agreement. ‘

2. Legal Challenges to Local Zoning Authority - lawsuits against small towns

“The power of large, multinational mining corporations to threaten lawsuits against small rural townships who dare to withhold permission for exploration and mining can be very intimidating.”

This threat has been used effectively by corporate mining interests in Wisconsin. Small towns and cities do not have the resources for lawsuits against powerful corporations.

3. Mass Media Campaigns

Public impressions of Mining are lower than for any other industry. Mining corporations use media campaigns to:

1. “Greenwash” their image
2. Accuse their opponents of spreading misinformation
3. Accuse those fighting to keep the environment safe and clean of being ‘Anti- jobs’
4. Offer enticements to a community - “buy us off”
5. Economic benefits for giving up health and environmental concerns
6. Tell citizens DNR approval means there will be “no harm to the environment or health”




Silica Mining Expansion in Wisconsin

Mining has been part of Wisconsin’s history and economy, both for good and for ill. Most of us are familiar with the many sand and gravel pits that dot our state. For the most part, we have not found them intrusive or worrisome. We understand that sand is an important resource used in many of the products that benefit our lives. Like all resources it is precious and finite and we should be thoughtful and careful about all decisions related to its extraction and use.

We welcome Development, but must guard against Exploitation

This new large scale mining of our Silica Sand for the oil companies is of a depth and size we are not accustomed to. Think: Mountain Top Removal. Where sand and gravel pits might operate seasonally, a few weeks at a time, these huge sand mines will be in operation all year long. They will be over 100 feet deep compared to sand pits that are typically 20 -30 feet deep. They will require the removal of many more acres of our valuable topsoil and trees and disrupt the wildlife we treasure. This type of mining will remove one hill after another, flattening our landscape. It is not clear if the land can be returned to productive agricultural uses. Year round transporting of these huge quantities of sand plus processing will use huge amounts of fuel and energy. The full cost to us is not even known, either environmentally or economically. Have you seen a reliable Cost/Benefit Analysis?

This new mining of our sand is not being done by local businesses for local use. It is for the oil and gas industries to use for “fracturing” oil and gas wells. Chemicals the Oil Industry refuses to reveal will be added to our sand. Then it will be forced into wells in attempts to remove dwindling supplies of oil and gas. This “hydraulic fracturing” is increasingly suspected of causing contamination to our nation’s water supplies and in fact could be banned entirely in the near future. Do we really want to give up the land, water and air quality we already have for an industry that could soon be illegal ? For an industry that is contributing in large ways to many of the environmental crisis we are facing? The Oil and Mining companies will save large amounts of money by mining our easy to reach sand. Do we have guarantees that the sacrifices we make will be repaid with lower priced supplies of natural gas for our use? In fact, it is quite possible that start to finish, this whole process will use more energy than we will ever get out of it. Furthermore,
there is nothing about this invasion of mining and heavy industry that fits with a sustainable, safer and healthier tomorrow for us and our children.

Article adapted from CCC Website:


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