Moratorium on sand mining needed to make sure
integrity of Winneshiek County can be maintained
Monday, May 13, 2013 9:50 AM
I have lived in Winneshiek County for 33 years, 24 of them in Pleasant Township. Like most local residents, until recently, I had never heard of frac sand. Since hearing last October that Allamakee and Winneshiek counties contain this sought-after sand, I set out to learn what I could about the effects of silica mining on rural communities.
We are lucky here in northeastern Iowa in that we can learn much from looking right across the river into Wisconsin. I have made connections with citizens of Crawford, Vernon and Trempeleau counties, as well as with people in Minnesota's Houston, Fillmore and Winona counties. In every case I see the same story: a few mining and construction companies can earn a lot of money from the frac sand boom, while it's hard to find even one citizen who sees a benefit from the encroachment of this giant industry into their county. Citizens are seeing that once it's begun, new mines open faster than could have been imagined.
People from these counties tell of how their neighbors sold out land or mineral rights to a mining or real estate company, usually with a non-disclosure clause so that neighbors were kept in the dark. This rendered the neighborhood unlivable due to trucks passing every 15 to 30 seconds, all-night operations and pervasive silica dust. These places that people once called home are becoming both inhospitable and unsaleable.
I have driven to more than 30 households in my rural neighborhood, engaging in conversation about the possibility of industrial silica mining taking place here. Most of my neighbors -though not all - are deeply worried about this possibility of a mine in our area. They know that it would bring unpredictable risks to the water, the air and the culture of this quiet farmland community.
Two of my neighbors are intrigued about the money they might be able to make if mining were to come, either by selling their land or by being hired to haul sand. However, every single person I talked with was eager to sign the petition for a two-year moratorium, because they want to see some questions answered before we would allow mining interests to start using our roads, bridges, water and land.
The thing that confounds and saddens the people in southwestern Wisconsin is how it all came on so fast, practically overnight, that their old life was swept away by these industrial mines. That's what I fear could happen in Winneshiek County too, if we don't take the time to learn what's at stake and protect the things we want and have the right to protect.
The sand will not go away while we take the time to put protections in place. If we open the door too soon, we risk losing forever things that we have all held dear: safe roads, a quiet pace of life, clean water, clean air and trusting neighbors.
Our county is a good place to live because of the contributions of its citizens. We all do our various parts in the schools, the churches, the civic organizations, the government and the businesses we maintain. If people can't bear to live in their neighborhoods due to traffic and air pollution, we lose our best resource.
The loss of people's good will and contributions to community is a far greater loss than that of short-term monetary profit to a few companies. I respect your openness to listen to the mining interests who stand to gain much by a speedy entry into Winneshiek County silica sand, and I know that you will listen just as carefully to the citizens, who have so very much more to lose.
Whether they are farmers, bikers, hunters or anglers, or business people, our children and grandchildren will thank us in the future for our wise choice to think first about the long-term health of land and people. We will know they are grateful when they chose to stay or return to Winneshiek County, because we preserved its livability.