Sand mine planned expansion concerns some MR residents, meeting plannedWisconsin Industrial Sand Company's recently announced plans to add 907 acres to its Maiden Rock operation and some community members are concerned that a vital equilibrium between industry and rural tranquility could be lost.
By: Eric Ludy - Red Wing Republican-Eagle, Pierce County Herald
MAIDEN ROCK -- Since moving to this tiny community over a year ago, Fred and Linda Harding have learned to live with the sand mine that sits just a few hundred feet from their home.
A rare form of sand has been harvested here since the 1930's and shipped out to aid in the restoration of oil and gas wells. It's the only major industry remaining in the village, with growth hemmed in by tall bluffs on one side and the shores of Lake Pepin on the other.
But Wisconsin Industrial Sand Company's recently announced plans to add 907 acres to its Maiden Rock operation and the Hardings and other community members are concerned that a vital equilibrium between industry and rural tranquility could be lost.
"We want Maiden Rock to be how it was," said Fred Harding.
A group of around 20 gathered at the Hardings' home last Friday to discuss how to make their voices heard in the run-up to upcoming county and village votes on the expansion plans.
They've listed a number of concerns with the mine that they feel will only grow worse with the expansion: explosions deep underground shake nearby houses, they say, and trucks carrying sand go by on the highway at all hours. Some wonder how mining operations affect local water quality.
Others say that the mine, owned by a subsidiary of Fairmount Minerals, Inc., siphons valuable resources from the community and gives little back in return.
"We are concerned about a lot of issues that the mine is bringing in here," said rural Maiden Rock resident Nan Michaud.
The Hardings held the gathering at their home last Friday in preparation for a Dec. 15 meeting of the Pierce County Land Management Commission, when commissioners will discuss whether to grant approval for the 538-acre rural portion of the expansion.
Using email, phone calls and word of mouth, Harding and a core group of community members have spent the past month trying to get area residents to make their concerns known to county officials.
"Let's make that meeting hall absolutely packed," Harding told the crowd gathered in his living room last Friday.
For 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Wisconsin Industrial Sand Company's Maiden Rock operation mines and processes a unique sand known in the oil industry as proppant.
The company harvests the sand in horizontal shafts hundreds of feet below ground. It's then dried and processed and shipped out to oil and gas companies for their own mining operations.
"Sand is very permeable," explains Rich Budinger, the company's regional manager. "The idea is for it to prop up the geology and allow for the oil and gas to flow."
The mine prides itself on community involvement, said Budinger, sponsoring events, encouraging and paying for volunteer efforts among its employees, and contributing to land trusts.
So he was surprised when a recent village meeting on the mine's proposed expansion prompted numerous comments from community members.
"I was fairly shocked by the level of concern," he said. "Up to that point, we had not received any complaints."
Budinger said the expansion is needed because of the steady decline of sand reserves over nearly eight decades of mining. The company has identified three parcels -- one in the village and two in surrounding Maiden Rock Township -- as suitable for mining.
"We need to replace our reserves to stay in business," he said.
The company takes community concerns "very seriously," said Budinger, but he said the mine could work with community members to mitigate their concerns.
Mine operators, for example, could notify neighboring homeowners of underground explosions before they occur, he said. Other operations, such as shipping schedules, could be altered to be less of a nuisance to neighbors.
"We need the feedback, because we can change," he said.
A meeting between mine operators and community members is planned Dec. 9 at the Maiden Rock Village Hall. Members of the public are invited to attend.