6/30/2011 11:15:00 AM Pros and cons of frac sand aired at meeting
Ryan Urban Chronotype staff
Barron County administrator Jeff French and Barron County Land Services Department director Dave Gifford answered questions concerning frac sand mining at an informational meeting at the Prairie Farm Community Center last Thursday. Approximately 50 citizens attended the meeting, some dead set against frac sand mining, some in favor, others still looking for facts. French said he was not taking a position on frac sand mining and was there to present facts and answer questions. French said frac sand mining could bring significant economic benefit to the area. He said a typical frac sand mine would have around 20 employees earning $15 to $20 an hour plus a few management positions earning more. French said that would amount to at least $31,000 per year for most workers, not including benefits. French said 20 workers earning $31,000 per year means a yearly payroll of $624,000 or possibly $800,000 including benefits. He said it was safe to say that amount could be multiplied by five to 10 times in terms of economic impact in the area. French said a mine worth $10 million would yield more than $137,000 for the Prairie Farm School District based on the county property tax rate of $13.74 per $1,000. He said that amount could be even higher because he knows of a frac sand mine with a mortgage of $54.5 million. French said the state assesses how much a mine is worth. But frac sand mining would cost money too. French said a road that could handle heavy sand truck traffic costs roughly $550,000 per mile. He said a county road is built to last 20 to 25 years based on the level of traffic at the time the road is built. French said funding road construction is entirely the county's responsibility. When asked if the county could consult with companies on which routes trucks use, French said he did not know for sure. When asked if the county might provide financial incentives to bring a frac sand business into a rural area, French said the county would not. One citizen raised a concern that removing sand, which serves as a groundwater filter, could have adverse effects. French said he hasn't been able to find a long-term study that addresses the issue. One citizen said Chippewa County has required at least one monitoring well for each 40 acres at a mining site. French said Barron County does not have such a requirement but is looking into it. French said air quality would be regulated by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. At one point a citizen asked French what questions they should be asking. "I would ask what's going to be the capacity of wells at the mine site? How do you discharge?" said French.
Reclamation Gifford said that after a chunk of land is mined, it is generally reclaimed right away because the company is charged a yearly fee for all land that is part of an active mine and once a piece of land is reclaimed the fee is no longer assessed. "They reclaim as they go," said Gifford. Gifford said it is the county's responsibility to certify land was reclaimed to the standards given in the reclamation plan, which a company must submit and have approved before mining can begin. To guarantee land is reclaimed, a company mining in Barron County must be insured for at least $3,000 per acre for reclamation in case the company does not have enough funds for the reclamation, said Gifford. He said the $3,000 figure was recently increased from $1,200 to ensure that if a company could not afford the reclamation the county would not incur any of the cost. He said if the county felt the insured amount needed to be higher, it would raise the amount again. Gifford said there are 62 active nonmetallic mines in Barron County, most of which are sand and gravel pits. He said he knows of a couple of sand or gravel pits in the county that are successfully reclaimed. A citizen said Chippewa County has two geologists on staff to give advice on issues such as frac sand mining and asked if Barron County had any employees who were geologists. Gifford said Barron County has no geologists on staff but has set aside $10,000 to hire advice if necessary. Gifford said the county did not require any hired counsel for the latest reclamation plan submitted for a frac sand mine in the Town of Prairie Farm. Gifford said the plan was "straightforward" and that the sand would be mined within 5 feet of the water table but not reach it, the slopes would be reclaimed to a 3:1 grade and the mine would not affect bedrock nor surface water. He also said blasting would not be used to mine the sand.
Letter French and Gifford were not supposed to be the only speakers at the meeting. Others, including a state land assessor, an economic development director and a soil and water specialist, could not make it to the meeting. Another, Ridgeland banker Larry Jess, did not attend but sent a letter, which was read. In the letter, Jess stated he lives within a mile of the frac sand mine in Menomonie and has noticed no blasting, change in his water, sand blowing from the mine or unsightly views. "When a community has a chance to add industry, it cannot ignore this opportunity to strengthen its economic base. It has long been taught in Economics 101 that money has an economic impact seven times the original. Money from sand trucking jobs will be spent in restaurants and stores in the area," stated Jess in the letter. Jess also broadened the scope of a mine's impact. "If we want to rely less on foreign oil, we have to drill at home. If we want to drill at home in an economical way that keeps oil prices reasonable, the drilling industry needs frac sand. My brother-in-law is a petroleum geologist who has told us that the shortage of frac sand is the single biggest factor limiting oil production in this country. Frac sand increases the productivity of each well, thus decreasing the number of wells needed, thus actually providing economic and environmental benefits."
Posted: Thursday, March 22, 2012
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