Moratorium needed to review regulations related to frac sand mining in Winneshiek County
Monday, May 06, 2013 4:10 AM
Dear Park and Zoning Commissioners of Winneshiek County:
Mike McGee, Steve Langland, Dan Langreck, John Berlage, Wendy Stevens, Mary Hoffman, Leslie Cook, Donna Rasmussen, and Doug Egeland)
I write this letter to urge you as Park and Zoning Commissioners of Winneshiek County to do the following:
1. Declare a 24-month moratorium on frac sand mining in the county; and
2. Further refine, enhance, expand and incorporate additional regulations regarding such mining within the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance of the county.
Frac sand mining is not just an abstract or ideologically-based concern for me. To explain, let me tell you who I am and why this issue is so important to me.
My wife and I have spent our retirement years in this county since the summer of 2000. I am a Lutheran clergyman ordained in 1960 who spent 13 years of my early career in parish ministry. I spent seven of those years in Williston, N.D., the geographic hub of the Bakken Formation, where hydraulic fracking for oil and natural gas continues at a pace utterly unimaginable, and with short- and long-term effects on the environment and human health currently impossible to assess.
After obtaining my Ph.D. in psychology at Boston University in 1972, I spent the rest of my career as a Massachusetts-licensed and federally-registered psychologist in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, both as clinical director of the Danielsen Institute at Boston University as well as 27 years in part-time private practice.
My mother was born in 1903 and raised in a family of eight children on a farm south of Eleva, Wis., and consequently I have numerous relatives living in multiple townships in Wisconsin where frac sand mining is flourishing with increasing intensity. Some of these relatives live right in the midst of this mining boom, and I hear first-hand stories fraught with dismay and alarm over multiple pernicious effects which they observe and/or fear of an environmental, aesthetic or health-related nature. A major factor giving rise to this specter in Wisconsin is undoubtedly a failure by townships to have anticipated the rise of frac sand mining, as well as a failure to have put in place regulations based on intelligent and focused planning. This in turn can be clearly attributed to the lack of a focused, deliberate and pain-staking exploration of the many ramifications of mining activity. Consequently, the dictum is most apropos for these Wisconsin residents and it's now too late to do much to undo or mitigate short- and long-term impacts of this industry.
Permit me to be even more personal. Shortly after my father retired in Eau Claire, Wis., in the late 1960s, he developed severe lung congestion which required him to be hospitalized. Chest x-rays revealed a huge mass larger than a grapefruit, and a team of physicians suspected he either had lung cancer or TB. Immediately he was put in isolation and no one entered his hospital room without a mask. Further diagnostic tests revealed that he was suffering from silicosis of the lung. After taking a thorough work history, the medical team concluded beyond reasonable doubt that the onset of his current distress was attributable to a 10-year period in his early work career in which he had worked with and labored in the sustained environment of silica sand. He spent the rest of his life with the inexorable effects of silica sand particles in his lungs, which constituted a clear causal factor in his eventual death.
My letter to you is neither substantive nor specific in setting forth a convincing rationale for implementing my two requests with which I began above. Others no doubt have done a superb job of laying out their facts-based appeals to you.
But what I wish to underscore is the sad and tragic narrative repeated time and time again in American history of industrial and market-driven encroachments into nature's domain which have resulted in unanticipated and destructive impacts on nature's bounty and environmental and human health. Perhaps the Hippocratic oath solemnly affirmed by all practicing physicians readily applies also to us as citizens: "Do no harm."
Donovan L. Hommen,