Those not directly affected by frack sand mines popping up in west-central Wisconsin like so many mushrooms are conflicted about whether their abundance is good, bad or neutral for our economy and environment.
That’s why it’s important that the state Department of Natural Resources takes an aggressive role to find out if the doomsday scenarios laid out by some people living close to mining operations are legitimate, and if so, what response is appropriate.
A recent meeting in rural Colfax to gather public input on the effects of mining brought troubling testimony. But the fact that the meeting was organized by the anti-mining group Midwest Environmental Advocates leaves suspicion as to whether the meeting was truly fact-finding or an orchestrated hatchet job aimed at shutting down mining operations.
But regardless of who organized the Feb. 25 meeting at the Howard Town Hall, concerns raised call for further investigation.
Wendy Loew, who lives about a half-mile from the Schindler sand mine, said blasting from the mine site “shakes our house. When this started, they said they weren’t going to blast.”
These two claims alone can and should be investigated by the DNR. Is blasting shaking homes? Did the company renege on a pledge not to blast?
Loew’s concerns run much deeper.
“When they blast we can see the big dust plume go hundreds of feet in the air,” she said, adding that the melting snow last spring had a reddish tinge from the mining dust. She also said that on summer or fall nights when she turns on a flood light she can see tiny particles in the air reflecting light.
The DNR requires industrial sand operations to monitor for air quality and provide that data to the agency.
The DNR should check Loew’s statements against the air quality data at the Schindler mine and determine if, at certain times, the air is being polluted by the mining operation. The health and safety of those living near mine operations is paramount, and complaints need to be investigated in a timely manner.
There’s no question the rapid proliferation of sand mine applications caught most local government officials off guard, but that can’t be used as an excuse for lack of oversight and investigation of citizen complaints.
The DNR staff reportedly is gathering public information and is scheduled to complete the “scoping” phase of its analysis of sand mining this month. Then presumably it will separate fact from opinion and take necessary steps to ensure the mining operations aren’t harming the environment and putting nearby residents at risk.
The DNR doesn’t have an easy task. Some people likely chose to live in areas where mines now operate because they wanted the peace and quiet of a rural setting. That serenity has now been replaced in dozens of locations by truck traffic, trains rumbling by and complaints about unsafe levels of air pollution.
All of these conflicts will never be settled to everyone’s satisfaction, but the air quality concerns need to be fully vetted without delay.