Wisconsin Transportation Budget May Restrict Local Regulation

Local governments would not be allowed to regulate air and water quality or restrict blasting at some sand mines, quarries and gravel pits under a provision in the state transportation budget, according to Rich Kremer, reporting for Wisconsin Public Radio

The state Legislature’s budget-writing committee inserted language into the spending plan that would restrict how local governments regulate sand mines, quarries and gravel pits that supply material for public works projects after April 2018.

In essence, the policy would bar counties, cities, towns and villages from restricting things like truck traffic, blasting and setbacks. It would also block local governments from setting their own air and water quality standards beyond those enforced by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Local governments have opposed efforts by Republican lawmakers, the frac sand industry and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce to restrict local control of mines and quarries over the past several years. But the provision included in the state transportation budget, with its scope limited to public projects, was hailed by Wisconsin Towns Association Executive Director Mike Koles as a workable compromise.

“The Wisconsin Towns Association is pleased that legislators responded to the voices of hundreds of town officials and rejected efforts to make wholesale changes to local regulatory authority, including complete elimination of non-metallic zoning and licensing authority,” Koles said. “The budget motion strikes a balance that preserves a vast majority of local government regulatory authority, only applies to aggregate quarries – not frac sand – ensures historic increases in general transportation aids and continues ongoing efforts to increase road building efficiencies.”

Trempealeau County is an example of a local government establishing it’s own rules on air and water quality. In response to the proliferation of frac sand mining, the county board approved a health impact study and enacted local environmental standards, beyond those enforced by the DNR. Board member Tim Zeglin said they felt the agency has been reigned in by Gov. Scott Walker and GOP lawmakers.

“The DNR, essentially, has been gut-shot and dressed out. So, if the state isn’t going to do anything, which they aren’t, it’s up to the counties,” Zeglin said.

The state’s business lobby, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, opposes the latest restrictions on local government control of nonmetallic mines because they don’t go far enough.

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