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Glenwood City to consider annexation referendum amid mining debate

GLENWOOD CITY, Wis. -- Despite the growing interest by residents and media in Glenwood City's debate over whether to permit Vista Sand to mine and process silica sand within the city limits, this week’s council meeting lacked enough chairs to accommodate a standing-room-only audience.

"How can you expect to operate and monitor a mine when you can't even supply enough chairs for your own citizens at a council meeting?" said one agitated resident.

Opening salvo aside, council member Crystal Booth felt overall the discussion was civil.

"People are very passionate about this," she said. "I really appreciated what everyone had to say."

If any board members felt disrespected by the tenor of the comments, something that Helen Quinn, wife of Dunn County Board of Supervisors member Tom Quinn, said summed up what residents were feeling.

"We're here, saying what we're saying and acting the way we are, because we're scared."

Resident and business owner, Jim Laskin, echoed Quinn's sentiments.

"As time's gone on, more and more people have gotten engaged," he said. "Even more than whether or not a mine should be in town, the question is whether or not Glenwood City should be in charge of it, and I think that scares people to death."

While Vista Sand's mining application continues to be scrutinized by St. Croix County, a Plan B has emerged requiring Glenwood City to annex the property in question from the Town of Glenwood, in theory circumventing county regulations. The goal of many of the residents attending the meeting was to present a petition, signed by 335 registered voters (more than half of the city's total registered voters), to the city council requesting that an action item be placed on September's agenda to consider holding a referendum before any action on annexation.

Mission accomplished, according to Booth. Following public discussion, the council added the action item to its agenda for its Sept. 9 meeting.

The petition presenter, retired high school Principal Julian Bender, impressed Booth when he spoke about some of the perils and consequences of "not involving the whole community" in the decision-making process, especially when the stakes are so high and the consequences so long lasting.

Bender said the majority those who signed the petition oppose the mine but some in favor of it signed as well, recognizing it as a vehicle for them to have a say in the decision.

Bender talked about a shared vision for the community that would allow people to move forward toward a common goal of what is best for the city.

"We have a difference in the shared vision here between those who support a mine and those who do not," he said. "The wise approach would be to allow the people who have a difference of opinion a voice, and that voice would be in the form of a referendum. This petition is not necessarily for or against frac sand mining, it's about having a voice in the process."

As a council member facing some difficult decisions, Booth was grateful for the input.

"I'm OK with this," Booth said. "I appreciate and am very thankful that the people came in and talked to us. It's democracy at work. They have every right to express themselves. In fact, they have an obligation to do so. The more we know, the better decisions we'll make."