Jackson County is considering whether to move ahead with exploring mining in its forest lands.
The executive and finance committee on Monday pushed forward a resolution to the county board that would allow an investment company to test forest land in the towns of Manchester and Knapp for materials like frac sand. The full board was scheduled to vote on the resolution at its meeting last Tuesday night.
Jim Zahasky, administrator of the forestry and parks department, said the county was approached by Meteor Timber LLC last week about the prospect of exploring and testing the lands. There’s no set number of acres that would be tested and the county only would then consider mining from the property if it’s “worthwhile,” he said.
“They’ve just opened the door to a partnership,” Zahasky said of Meteor Timber, which owns land adjacent to the targeted areas. “There’s no sense in getting into an agreement if there’s nothing worthwhile.”
The vote to send the resolution to the county board came after the group discussed and OK’d a conflict of interest waiver form provided to the county by Meteor Timber and its legal counsel, Weld, Riley, Prenn & Ricci. The Eau Claire-based law firm also serves Jackson County as its corporation counsel, so both parties wanted county officials to be aware of and waive the potential conflict of interest.
The county, however, already doesn’t utilize the law firm’s services for zoning- and mine-related issues and instead solicits legal advice from Kerry Sullivan-Flock in those instances, said committee and Jackson County Board Chair Dennis Eberhardt.
Executive and finance committee member Ray Ransom raised concerns that there already may have been a conflict with the committee voting on the resolution, which came from the forestry and parks committee – an entity that would have been represented by Weld, Reilly, Prenn and Ricci.
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“I’m just saying – I don’t know if you see it as a conflict … or not,” Ransom said during Monday’s meeting. “I’m just saying in this particular instance we’ve already had a conflict.”
Eberhardt said he didn’t see an issue and also noted Sullivan-Flock reviewed the prospective mining agreement; Ransom said he was glad to see the waiver and only wanted to mention his concern.
The prospective mining agreement, if approved by the full board, would allow Meteor Timber to conduct the testing and share results with the county at no cost to the county. The potential exploration also would require Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources authorization.
Committee member Ron Carney said he didn’t “see any problem” with an exploration stage but said what it could lead to – the mining – is more important. Eberhardt said there would be advantages and disadvantages to moving ahead with mining, but he said if the county could remove and sell materials, it would assist in the annual budget for all departments.
Committee member Roger Stevens clarified that the resolution only would authorize testing, which he said he could support.
“I’m in favor of that,” he said.
The executive and finance committee voted unanimously to send the prospective mining resolution to the full county board. The forestry and parks committee had previously voted 4-1 to send the item to executive and finance. Jerry Schmidt cast the dissenting vote.