11/21/2012 10:14:00 AM Planning & Zoning Commission sets public hearing on frac sand mining moratorium
by Lissa Blake
Before the Allamakee County Planning and Zoning Commission makes any decisions on a moratorium regarding frac sand mining, the general public will have another chance to air its concerns. At its Monday, November 19 regular meeting, the Commission set a public hearing for Monday, December 17 at 6 p.m. at the Allamakee County Courthouse to hear input on a possible moratorium. During Monday's meeting, the Commissioners heard from four representatives of the Allamakee County Protectors, a group of county residents who recently organized to oppose frac sand mining in Allamakee County.
DECLINING VALUES Sue Weymiller said she lives on the Sand Cove across from Dave Mitchell (owner of one of the prospective frac sand mining sites). “I grew up on Sand Cove and I loved it so much I wanted to raise my family here. I worked my whole life, built a home and I live in a beautiful area. If we allow this to pass, our quiet neighborhood will no longer be quiet. Trucks will pass through every three minutes. We will hear the noise of heavy equipment from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. “It will disturb the landscape, affect the drinking water and result in destruction of wildlife. We will lose the current value of our property and homes. No one will want to live next to a sand mine. Properties next to mines experience 30-percent reduction in property values. Our small town will get smaller,” said Weymiller.
FRAGILITY Mary Klauke Abbas, who lives along Bear Creek, said she lives one farm away from the farm where her father grew up and where his mother grew up. Abbas said her mother was born on the Sand Cove almost 93 years ago. “We are not the first to realize how special this place is or to avail ourselves of its treasures. Before pioneers arrived here, it was populated for 100 centuries by Native Americans who lived in a symbiotic relationship with the land … (they) realized the incredible fragility of the landscape and all that it contains. Yet they lived with that fragility. It became part of their everyday life. It required incredible effort and hard work to maintain the sustainability of the land while taking their very existence from it. It’s a way of life we need to practice,” said Klauke Abbas. “We have to ask now: What is our vision for Allamakee County in 10 years, 50 years, 100 years, when our grandchildren’s children (we hope) live here? Is this vision written into our comprehensive plan? Do our ordinances protect us from the pitfalls of mining?”
AT WHAT COST? Dan Colsch said he believes frac sand mining would create a few jobs and a few people would benefit financially. “But at what cost to our county? Our roads are a major aspect. The upkeep, maintenance, safety, putting in turning lanes… If they cross into Wisconsin, they will be traveling across Black Hawk Bridge, which cannot sustain 50 to 100 trucks per day per mine … If they don’t go over the bridge, they will go through Lansing and that four-way stop would have to be reconfigured… In Waukon, if you’re coming from Lansing, that light is long enough for one semi to get through,” said Colsch. “Upkeep is going to cost the county millions… During springtime when you put embargoes on roads, where are those trucks going to go? Are you going to have to maintain those roads? Finally, look at what this county is built on. Most people come here for tourism - hunting and fishing. Who is going to want to hunt if you start to pull your bow back for that buck and semis start rolling past. “Financially, we need to look at who is going to make the money, but also who is going to pay the money in the end. In my opinion, it’s going to be the county and the taxpayers,” concluded Colsch.
TRUCK TRAFFIC Doug Weymiller said he has had some conversations with some of the companies wanting to move forward. “I’ve been approached and they want 30 to 40 mines in this county. They would get started with a couple little ones. It’s phenomenal, 30 to 40 (mines) times 100 (trucks per mine per day) is 3,000 to 4,000 trucks a day,” said Weymiller.
BOOM AND BUST Jeff Abbas of Dorchester said people need to keep in mind that frac sand mining is a “boom and bust” business. “They fly like the devil for a short time… They are well coached and well trained. Highly trained in public relations. It’s not just one mine. They want everything in this part of the country. It’s not just in the St. Peter, it’s in the Jordan. When it’s done, they’re gone and all they leave behind is their mess,” said Abbas.
LEGAL COUNSEL Attorney Karl Knudson, representing the Allamakee County Protectors, next addressed the Commission. Knudson had supplied the Commission with a proposal to hold a public hearing for the purpose of setting a moratorium on frac sand mining in Allamakee County. “In the comprehensive plan you have right now, there is the brief mention of St. Peter, but it was written prior to this new use of frac sand for hydraulic fracking of petroleum… Also because of this new use, there is a demand for frac sand out of your Jordan layer, which for most of the county is an aquifer. “If you could have enough time in a moratorium to revisit and amend the comprehensive plan and then come back in with a zoning ordinance that flows out of the comprehensive plan… At that point, go back into the comprehensive plan and look at what changes might be appropriate given the current conditions,” said Knudson. “I would request that you adopt a resolution calling for a hearing and published notice.”
GOOD INFORMATION Planning and Zoning Chairperson Nancy Everman thanked everyone for coming and sharing their concerns. “We’ve talked a great deal about water quality, trucking on the roads and the impact this could have on our county. We’re just as concerned as you are,” said Everman. Allamakee County Zoning Administrator Tom Blake said the Board of Supervisors recently approved a resolution to suggest a moratorium to give the County time to explore potential issues that have not been addressed in the County’s comprehensive plan and current zoning ordinance. “(A moratorium) should be put into place in order to preserve the status quo for a reasonable amount of time while the County investigates, recognizing there may be issues, not saying that there are,” said Blake. Blake said the timeframe for the moratorium requested is one year, “with the intent and purpose of the moratorium to study an issue and review whether or not regulations adequately address it.” Everman next asked Blake if he thought a year would be enough time for the county to fully explore the issue. “I think a year should be adequate. You may be able to do it in less time than that,” said Blake. Everman next said the County needs “to do this planfully and take the time to learn what we can.” She also asked if the moratorium could be extended, if necessary. Blake said it could, and the Board of Supervisors would be the entity to grant such an extension. Commissioner Doug Mullen next noted the length of the moratorium would not need to be decided until after the public hearing. “I really do believe it’s going to take some time. I think a year is minimal,” said Mullen. Everman next asked whether there are frac sand mining categories which are more damaging than others (i.e. mining vs. processing). Ric Zarwell, president of the Allamakee County Protectors, answered, “There is a good amount of evidence that processing facilities are aimed at Allamakee County. Our request is that we want to have processing facilities covered along with mining.” Commissioner Kirby Cahoon next asked if it might be beneficial to talk with zoning administrators in Minnesota or Wisconsin who had already been through similar situations in their communities. “Wisconsin has 40 moratoriums in place,” said Zarwell. “Information we can get from other counties is always good to look at,” added Everman.
THE RESOLUTION At the end of the discussion, the Commission approved the resolution provided by Knudson, with a few changes. The resolution calls for a “Notice of public hearing of the Allamakee County Planning and Zoning Commission to consider recommendation of an amendment to Allamakee County zoning ordinance which would adopt a temporary moratorium on the consideration or issuance of conditional use permits for opening new extraction pits and the expansion of existing extraction pits for the mining of industrial sand from the Jordan and St. Peter Sandstone Layers. “The purpose of a temporary moratorium would be to suspend the right of property owners to obtain conditional use permits or site plan approvals for the opening of new sandstone mining operations and the expansion of existing operations while Allamakee County takes time to consider, draft and adopt land use plans or rules to respond to new or changing circumstances not adequately dealt with by its current laws concerning such sandstone mining.” The property which would potentially be affected by such a moratorium would be all property in Allamakee County, excluding incorporated areas. These would be dealt with by the respective municipalities. During the public hearing, the Allamakee County Planning and Zoning Commission shall receive oral or written objections or comments from any interested persons. Everman noted spoken comments will be limited to a period of two minutes per speaker.
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