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Wisconsin State Senator Unveils Mine Plan

Wisconsin State Senator Kathleen Vinehout unveiled a package of five legislative proposals to protect local people’s right to know about sand mines and participate in local decisions to locate a mine.

“My proposal is a common sense approach to involving local people in decision making by arming them with information,” said Vinehout. “People need to know if there is a proposed mine or prospecting for a mine in their neighborhood. Property buyers need to know if neighboring property has a contract with a mine; residents need to know if there a hearing scheduled to approve a mine.”

Vinehout’s five-point plan includes proposals to require a public hearing, to provide adequate notice including 30-day written notice to neighbors within a mile of the proposed mine and to authorize counties to register prospectors to provide neighbors and local officials advance notice of future mining plans. Land buyers would receive information on mining contracts with neighboring properties. Residential areas and local neighbors would be protected with a buffer zone surrounding all new mines, processing facilities or loading facilities.

“People are concerned about mining. Every part of this five point plan originates from the recommendations and experiences of local people,” said Vinehout.

“My approach preserves local control; protects local residents; gives residents and officials the knowledge they need and makes certain everyone affected can be involved in local decision making.”

The five points are:

  • LRB 1342 Right to Know: Public Notice. Frac sand mining is rapidly proliferating in western Wisconsin and the impacts are taking many residents by surprise. Property owners are often unaware of mines being sited near their property. Sometimes they learned of a new mine by talking with neighbors or reading news stories after the mine application had been approved. LRB 1342 will ensure local people are adequately informed when a frac sand mine is proposed. This bill requires the governing body that considers frac sand mine applications to publish at least two separate newspaper notices (a class 2 notice) at least 30 days prior to taking action on an application. The bill also requires a written notice be sent, via first class mail, to property owners or occupants situated within one mile of the proposed mine.
  • LRB 1550 Right to Know What You’re Buying: Property Disclosure. Sand mining interests have purchased an increasing number of contracts to mine sand on properties throughout western Wisconsin. Individuals seeking to buy a rural house or lot are often unaware of these contracts on neighboring property. Close proximity to a sand mine is a major factor in considering the purchase of a piece of property. Under current law, owners selling residential property or vacant land must give prospective buyers a form – known as a real estate condition report (residential) and a vacant land disclosure report (vacant land) – on which the owner discloses information about the property. LRB 1550 requires an owner to disclose on the applicable report whether the owner has notice or knowledge of a contract, or an option to contract, that allows a person to mine frac sand on a neighboring property.
  • LRB 1268 Right to Know of Future Plans: Prospector/Exploration Registration. Companies conducting exploration for metallic mining are required to obtain a license, post a bond to cover potential damage and adequately fill exploratory drill holes. Non-metallic mines do not have similar requirements. LRB 1268 authorizes counties to issue licenses for frac sand exploration. Exploration consists of drilling holes for the purpose of searching for frac sand or establishing the nature and extent of a frac sand deposit. Under the bill, a person who applies to a county for a frac sand exploration license must submit a bond to ensure that drill holes will be properly filled and proof that the person has liability insurance covering personal injury and property damage. The bill requires a licensee to notify the county before beginning drilling and before filling a drill hole. The bill also requires the Department of Natural Resources to provide technical assistance related to frac sand exploration to a county upon request.
  • LRB 1341 The Right to Have a Voice in the Process: Public Meetings and Zoning. Local government officials often feel they have little power to protect their communities when negotiating with a frac sand mining company. When considering frac sand mine applications, some zoning ordinances give local officials little power to negotiate with mining companies on topics such as hours of operation, blasting policy, damage to local roads, groundwater usage and air pollution. LRB 1341 requires frac sand mining to be listed as a conditional use in areas zoned for agricultural use. Requiring a conditional use permit would give local officials an opportunity to negotiate conditions on the operation of a frac sand mine. Requiring a conditional use permit retains the benefits of local control and brings to public hearing the issues related to sand mine siting. This bill also makes frac sand mining a prohibited use in residentially zoned areas. Industrial sand mining is simply incompatible with residences. This proposal would not affect existing mines but would prohibit future mines from locating in areas zoned as residential.
  • LRB 1344 Right To Protected Property: Setbacks and Buffer Space.

Industrial sand mines impact the surrounding area in a number of ways. Noise, dust, blasting and heavy truck traffic are just some of ways sand mines impact the area. Creating a meaningful buffer zone will help to mitigate the impacts of a sand mine on neighbors. LRB 1344 prohibits a frac sand mine, a frac sand processing facility, or a frac sand loading facility from being located within 2,500 ft. of a single-family or two-family residence or within 2,500 ft. of a single-family or two-family residential zoning district.