The Monroe County Sanitation and Zoning Committee will consider early next week whether to add provisions for sand mining to the county zoning ordinance.
The five-member committee decided to discuss the issue after members of the public raised concerns about sand mining operations near their homes, said committee chairman Douglas Path. The meeting will be at 6 p.m. Monday at the Monroe County Justice Center.
“We have several sand mines in the area, and we just approved one over by Oakdale,” Path said. “The committee thought it was a good idea to review our ordinances.”
Monroe County currently considers conditional use permits for sand mines on a case by case basis.
There are 92 active sand mines in Wisconsin, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, including seven active sand mines in Monroe County. Buffalo, Trempealeau and Jackson counties are also home to active sand mines.
While sand mining is not new to the area, advancements in fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, an oil and gas extraction technique, increased the demand for Wisconsin sand in recent years. Fracking uses a combination of water, chemicals and sand pumped at high pressure into wells to pulverize layers of shale rock that contain oil and natural gas, forcing the hydrocarbons to the surface.
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Although Wisconsin has no known petroleum reserves, its quartz-rich rock formations are ideal for producing the hard, round grains of sand used during fracking. However, demand for Wisconsin frac sand has slowed after companies found a way to use Texan brown sand produced closer to the shale fields.
The Wisconsin DNR oversees permits to prevent environmental degradation from sand mining processes. The required permits usually include one for a high-capacity well, stormwater management and air quality monitoring. Additional permits are needed when mining takes place near wetlands or bodies of water, threatened or endangered species habitat, or archaeologically significant sites.
Counties and towns regulate sand mines through mandatory reclamation permits and plans, as well as optional zoning permits, moratoriums, ordinances and road use agreements.
Monroe County considered adding conditions for sand mines to its ordinance in 2012, during the height of the fracking boom.
These conditions were drafted from other county ordinances, said zoning director Alison Elliott.
The 5½-page list of potential conditions included limitations on mining hours, noise levels and light pollution. It also called for water sampling wells for every five acres of the mine site and a water table protection zone with a one-mile radius.
“The meeting will just be an introduction, a discussion of other people’s ordinances compared to ours,” Path said.
Trempealeau County, for example, has a more detailed ordinance for sand mines.
The committee could decide to request more specific information for what to include in its ordinance or decide that no changes are needed, Path said.
Jennifer Lu is the La Crosse Tribune environmental reporter. You can reach her by phone at 608-791-8217 and by email firstname.lastname@example.org.