Open Letter

“Save Our Knapp Hills” Alliance
Knapp, Lucas and Stanton Areas
Dunn County, Wisconsin
P.O. Box 85
Knapp, WI 54749
saveknapphillsalliance@gmail.com

Dear fellow residents of Knapp, Lucas, Stanton and the surrounding area,

A new year has arrived, and our quiet, rural community is facing new challenges — to our rolling hills, our water and air, and our way of life.

By now, you’ve probably heard about the new influx of frac-sand mining interests in our community. Many local property owners — especially those along U.S. Highway 12 and the Union Pacific rail line — have been approached by prospectors who want to lease or buy large tracts of land for the purpose of mining, processing and transporting vast quantities of silica sand destined for use as “frac sand” in natural-gas and oil hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations in other regions of the U.S.

Several such mining operations have already been established in our region (in Menomonie and Chippewa Falls, and near New Auburn, Bloomer, Red Wing and Maiden Rock, among others). Many more are underway.

At least one industrial-scale frac-sand mine and processing plant has already been proposed within our local Knapp Hills area, with the potential for many more to come. Dozens of such mining sites are now proposed or in various stages of development throughout our region — some of them hundreds of acres in size.

We think it is important for all residents to understand: The frac-sand mines now being considered and opened are not the small, traditional sand and gravel pits to which we are all accustomed. They are far more intensive, heavy industrial operations, the kind that carve open entire hills for blasting and grinding, operate 24/7 to achieve maximum extraction rates, generate a huge amount of potentially dangerous silica dust, and involve a persistent stream of rumbling truck traffic.

New mining interests also want to construct a big new processing plant and a rail spur — right in our backyards — that would handle the loading and traffic of thousands of rail cars carrying away millions of tons of sand from our hills to oil and natural gas fields in the West. A processing plantwould likely demand one or more high-capacity wells (capable of pumping a million gallons per day) and sand-wash ponds that typically employ potentially carcinogenic water contaminants (chemical flocculents) for settling, and may involve vinyl-resin coating of sand.

The prospectors promise that new jobs and wealth will come from the mines and plants. But in other communities, such promises have been exaggerated, and the problems stemming from this new industry have, for a great many residents, outweighed the benefits.

Whether you see this prospect as an economic opportunity or a serious threat to our quality of life (or both) depends on your point of view. But what’s clear is that frac-sand mining is fast becoming an urgent and divisive issue for our area. It has already had profound impacts on similar nearby communities, and could very well affect our land, our homes, our families and our relationships with our neighbors for many generations to come.

Recently, after having been approached by these prospectors ourselves, a group of us got together with our neighbors to do some research, and we learned some things we think every resident and landowner should know:

1) The influx of large-scale sand mining would permanently alter the character of our area. The type of mining currently being considered involves hilltop removal and intensive mining of large tracts of land that, even after reclamation, will never again be usable for farming. When frac-sand mining comes into rural areas like ours, both local lands and lives undergo significant change — from 24-hour industrial noise, vibration, blasting and light pollution to increased truck traffic, road wear, destruction of wooded hills, loss of farmland and wildlife habitat, failure of wells, and more. A mine of this type may operate for 20–50 years, and will affect our landscape forever. In nearby communities dealing with this type of mining, residents initially excited by promises of jobs
and wealth have found themselves facing serious sacrifices to their well-being and quality of life.

2) “Environmental impacts will occur.” This is a key conclusion of a presentation of “lessons learned” from frac-sand mining operations in Chippewa County, prepared by the county’s land conservationist (see resources below for a link to a PDF of complete report). Although mining interests promise that they will comply with various regulations, many current state, DNR, county and local regulations do not begin to address the risks and impacts that widespread frac-sand mining and processing involve. Most rely on self-monitoring and self-reporting by the companies, and have no real power until after an incident is reported. Current regulations accept that a certain amount of environmental degradation is unavoidable, and recently proposed changes in mining laws (AB 426) and local comprehensive planning powers (AB 303) would radically weaken existing protections and restraints, as well as opportunities for citizen input.

3) There’s a lot at stake, and caution is key. The mining-industry promises are enticing. The silica sand resources in our region are clearly valuable and are likely to be in great demand for the foreseeable future. But we should not be in a rush to sell them off without regard to the long-term costs, losses and dangers extracting them will involve. Property owners and local governments
must proceed with great care, making sure that they understand all the risks, and have strong legal and regulatory protections in place. Before residents or communities enter into any agreements with these or other developers, we encourage them to seek outside, objective information that will help them understand their rights, the natural resources at stake, the nature of the companies they are doing business with, and the extent of the potential liabilities they may face in opening up their land — and their neighborhood — to this type of mining and development.

4) This affects everyone, including you. Local residents and property owners should know that not just proposed mining sites, but all farms, homes and properties for many miles around the sites could be significantly affected. Research, including an analysis by the Centre for Spatial Economics suggests neighboring property values can be reduced by as much as 25-30% within a quarter mile of mines of this type, and by 5-7% even several miles away. And
households throughout the whole area could suffer from changes to ground and surface water, increases in noise, traffic, air-pollution, loss of dark night skies, and increased risks for serious silica-sand related health concerns ranging from asthma to silicosis and cancer.

While it is true that these proposed mines and processing plants may bring some new short-term economic development opportunities to our area, they will also bring real liabilities, risks and trade-offs — many of which will permanently affect our area and the lives of generations to come. Dealing with the zoning, legal and regulatory issues these mining interests raise will also be extremely costly, time consuming and difficult for our local governments.

For all these reasons and more, as resident property owners and taxpayers, we support the one year moratoriums recently passed by the Towns of Knapp, Lucas and Stanton. We also support the recently passed six-month Dunn County moratorium, which will give local leaders and community members the time to do more research, review and adopt appropriate ordinances, develop educational materials and establish communication channels that will help us all better prepare for both the challenges and opportunities ahead. But we don’t have much time, and there’s a lot to learn.

For now, we strongly encourage all residents to:

  • Get informed and involved. Input and action from local residents is essential. Attend local government meetings and information sessions on the issue (watch the Dunn County News, local taverns and town halls for postings).
  • Use your influence. Contact your local Town and County Board representatives and state elected officials to ask questions and let them know your concerns. Connect with neighbors and local Land-Use Planning Committees to share questions and information.
  •   Also check out the following informational resources:

SHORT VIDEOS ABOUT LOCAL FRAC-SAND MINING CONCERNS
Frac-Sand Mine Neighbors: Residents of Maiden Rock, Wisc. describe what
it’s like to live next to an industrial frac-sand mine that operates 24/7:
http://youtu.be/msV9ciDqvJA

The Hills Are Gone: A resident of Dunn County describes industrial sand
mining — the promises versus the reality: http://youtu.be/FNQ6jCihsDk

Silica Mine From Above:
View of the industrial silica mine currently operating in Menomonie, Wisc. http://youtu.be/wNVBgZwuRzA

PRESENTATIONS BY COUNTY AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT EXPERTS
Frac-Sand Mining In Wisconsin Towns
Download materials from the full-day information session hosted by the Wisconsin Town’s Association on January 12th in Eau Claire at http://wisctowns.com or get more information about upcoming educational events by calling 715-526-3157.

Issues Facing County Governments/Frac-Sand Mining: The Local Perspective
PDF of a recent presentation by Dan Masterpole, Wisc. Counties Association,
Stevens Point, Wisc.: http://wicounties.org/files/WCA Seminars/ Nov 2011 Mining Seminar Masterpole.pdf

Silica Sand/Fracking Video Presentation by Bruce Brown
Basic overview of frac sand, and why it has suddenly become a “growth industry” in this region, by geologist Bruce Brown: http://youtu.be/kcuMZHEqpmA

BACKGROUND INFO AND LINKS
Dunn County Sand
Non-partisan site providing information (including links, resources, videos and local perspectives) on frac-sand and related issues:

Wisconsin Watch — Home of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

The Save the Hills Alliance — Collected information and links from Concerned Chippewa Citizens and other groups related to sand-mining in upper Wisconsin

Save the Bluffs/Red Wing Committee — Collected information, links and a Facebook page from concerned residents in Red-Wing and Hay Creek area

We are currently welcoming interested residents of all perspectives to join the “Save Our Knapp Hills” Alliance, share information, and help assist with research, education and outreach efforts. We are also striving to make connections with other local groups and sites that have formed around this issue. Your input is welcome.

Thank you,

Your Neighbors With the “Save Our Knapp Hills” Alliance

P.S. If you have been approached by a prospector or other mining interest, and would like counsel on how to evaluate the offers and lease agreements they may present, please see our “Checklist of Considerations for Landowners.” You can find it at https://sites.google.com/site/dunncountysand/home, or if you supply contact info, we’ll be happy to mail, email or fax it to you at no charge.

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