WHITEHALL, Wis. — A western Wisconsin county that has issued more frack sand mining permits than any other county in the state and in neighboring Minnesota has decided to take a hiatus on new projects while it addresses health and environmental concerns.
The Trempealeau County Board’s decision to impose a moratorium of up to a year was met with applause from an overflow crowd at Monday night’s meeting.
“I’m very pleased,” said Sally Miller, the board member who authored the resolution. “This is going to slow things down and give us a chance to catch our breath.”
Questions about the effects of sand mining on human health and the environment have largely gone unanswered as the county has approved permits for 26 companies that are mining and processing silica sand on 4,733 acres in the scenic county across the Mississippi River from Winona, Minn. The sand is used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which oil and gas are extracted from rock by injecting high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals.
The moratorium “would give the county some time to research the health issues and take a closer look,” said Kevin Lien, director of Trempealeau’s Environment and Land Use Committee. “Right now the public has questions that we can’t answer.”
Trempealeau County joins several other counties and communities on both sides of the Mississippi that have imposed moratoriums on frack sand mining while public concerns about the growing industry are addressed.
The Trempealeau vote comes after accusations of ethics violations against a supervisor who is being investigated for allegedly cloaking his own frack sand interests. Board member David Suchla has denied any wrongdoing. The case is under initial review by a special prosecutor in neighboring LaCrosse County.
Suchla left Monday’s meeting when the moratorium discussion began and did not vote. The measure passed 12-0, with two abstentions and three members not present.
The moratorium will begin Aug. 30, according to the Star Tribune.