August 30, 2012
The people vs. frac
By David Giffey
Grassroots organizing at its best is unfolding in unzoned Hixton Township in Wisconsin’s Jackson County, where residents are pushing a six-month moratorium on frac sand mining in order to provide time to “try to put in the best ordinance possible to regulate any mines that did get started.”
The town board scheduled a public hearing on the moratorium for Thursday, September 6, after 35 people showed up at a board meeting on the issue earlier in August.
Moratorium organizer Gaylord Oppegard said, “Thirty-five people at this township meeting is a large group. The [town board] chair said it would represent nearly one-third of the number of people who would normally vote.”
The Town of Hixton effort is a case study for rural Wisconsin people in townships that are targets for huge corporate mining interests because of the presence of ancient silica sand desired for use in the hydraulic fracturing process around the U.S. to tap gas and oil deposits. (See "Sand, oil, soil and cash" by Bill Berry on this website.)
Oppegard is certainly qualified to speak about frac sand mining.
“A speculator stopped and offered to buy 40 acres of our land adjacent to where he claims he has an option to buy other land for a sand mine,” Oppegard said. “For that reason alone, you can see my concern.” Another mine is proposed “just over the hill in the other direction,” he said.
The sand mining rush is a recent phenomena in west central Wisconsin and wherever silica sand mining operations and processing plants are consuming large tracts of Wisconsin, changing forever the state’s topography and posing serious water, air, and infrastructure pollution. Small townships like Hixton, without intervention from concerned citizens, will be victimized by unrestricted mining companies.
The corporations are seeking Wisconsin sand to be processed, trucked to railways, and shipped to other states where it is mixed with unnamed chemicals and pumped into underground bedrock to release the fossil fuels.
“There is no doubt that everything has happened…so quickly that it is difficult to keep track of it all,” said Oppegard, a retired teacher. “Our county board has lots of folks on it who would be OK with sand mines…as long as they are not located too close to them.” An often-repeated promise of jobs is also misleading.
Oppegard said he began knocking on neighbors' doors in July, and 25 people gathered in his house to decide to approach the town board. After getting on the Hixton board agenda, only one pro-miner showed up. That person “swore and left the room,” Oppegard recalled. The hearing was set and the board will vote on the moratorium at a meeting on September 10.
Hope prevails that the board will call a moratorium and strict mining regulations will follow. But the temptation of quick cash for landowners also prevails. One of the three town board supervisors “has a deal made to build a wash plant on his property if sand mines get started,” said Oppegard.
Praise is due to the people of the Town of Hixton for their vigilance in seeking a moratorium on sand mining. That’s a course of action that the state legislature and governor should follow as well. A statewide moratorium would provide much-needed aid to tiny municipalities already struggling to provide needed services like roads and snowplows, and additionally burdened trying to deal with greedy and powerful mining interests driven by profit, with track records of environmental plunder and mayhem.
Fighting Bob Fest on September 15 at the Alliant Center, Madison, will include a breakout session on open pit strip mining. The discussion will be open to all, and led by panelists Bob Kincaid, Al Gedicks, Frank Koehn, and Mike Wiggins, Jr., chairman of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians.
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