County Tries Again To Bolster Mining Oversight

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MTT News's picture
Matt Geiger
Local towns were divided on the first version of Ordinance Amendment 26. Some voted in favor of the proposal for increased mining oversight, but the majority, including the Town of Middleton, balked at the proposal.

County leaders aren’t giving up on their efforts to regulate local mining sites, despite towns’ tepid response to their earlier attempts.

Flanked by supporters and backed by the pristine natural landscape of the Pheasant Branch Conservancy and a dormant mine that abuts it, county executive Joe Parisi last week rolled out the latest plan to bolster oversight of mining operations that border residential and conservation areas.

Ordinance Amendment (OA) 26, the county’s stab at making mining companies follow regulatory rules similar to those already in place for other types of businesses, fizzled recently when area towns, under pressure from mining interests and the Dane County Towns Association, voted to block the increased regulations.

But Parisi said Dane County policymakers are continuing their efforts to eliminate an antiquated law that could allow quiet farm fields or green spaces across the region to be turned into operational quarries overnight with little public input or public notice.

The county can prevent this scenario with an amended version of OA 26 that supporters say would protect the ability of local governments and county residents to have a say in how mines operate. They want to control what time of day rock blasting can occur, how much dust can be created from mine operations, and how much truck traffic can enter and leave a mine and its surrounding neighborhood. 

The changes are authored by county supervisor Patrick Miles (Dist. 34-McFarland) and could be considered by the Zoning and Land Regulation Committee of the Dane County Board in May. They tighten the earlier draft’s language, offering a more specific definition of what makes a mine “inactive.” 

“[A] mineral extraction operation shall be considered active and retain nonconforming use status if the site has and maintains a current nonmetallic mining reclamation permit meeting all of the requirements of Chapter 74 as of [clerk to insert effective date],” states the latest version of the proposal.

OA 26 would now provide a window of opportunity over the next two months before the ordinance becomes effective for non-conforming mining site owners or operators to obtain a reclamation permit and thus retain nonconforming use status.

Parisi said the revised version of OA 26 would apply to 34 mining sites in the county.

“Dane County’s residents deserve more say in what goes on in their neighborhoods, not less,” said Parisi. “This common sense change will not only correct an archaic law, it will protect the public’s right to have their voices heard and level the playing field for businesses that are playing by the rules.”

In 1969, the Dane County Board passed a law exempting nearly 100 locations across the county from permitting rules that apply to other new proposed mines or quarries.  The proposed ordinance would require 34 of the 100 grandfathered sites  to go through the same permitting process a new mine is currently required to go through.

“Residents live, work, or play by these grandfathered mining sites – many have no idea that the field down the street could be turned into a quarry so easily with little public notice or input,” said Parisi.

One notable example in the Town of Springfield, near the site of Friday’s announcement, is located next to the Pheasant Branch Conservancy and close to a residential neighborhood. Similar sites dot the map of Dane County, including suburbs of Mount Horeb.

Opening a mine immediately next to the property could pose a significant environmental risk, according to multiple speakers at the press conference. Residents of the neighborhood near the conservancy could also be negatively impacted by the noise and traffic of a fully operational mine, said Parisi.

“Dane County has been a great partner in efforts to restore and protect Pheasant Branch Conservancy,” said local resident Bruce Froehlke. “This ordinance is another example of the county’s commitment to environmental quality.”

The county’s original ordinance, introduced in February, was amended this month in an effort to accommodate concerns by some Dane County towns and aggregate producers who opposed the original version of the legislation.

County officials hope the change is enough to gain support for the ordinance, which cannot become law if a majority of towns formally vote against it.

“I ask the towns to vote for this amendment because a vote against this amendment is a vote against local control and providing their residents a voice in the process,” said Miles.

If the ordinance receives approval by the Dane County Board, the county’s towns would have 40 days to review and act on the amended law. The County Board could vote on the proposal as early as June.

Miles said the new plan addresses the “major concerns” towns voiced regarding OA 26. He said the proposal offers up a tighter definition of what constitutes a “dormant” mine and provides clarity on a number of issues that critics said were not adequately addressed the first time around.

None of the 34 mining sites that would be impacted by Miles’ proposal have a reclamation permit application on file.

As of March 27, Dane County towns had voted 20-14 against the first version of OA 26. How they respond to the county’s recent changes remains to be seen.




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