WHITEHALL, WIS. - A divisive public hearing over frac sand ended in approvals this week for two new mining projects, despite citizen complaints that some officials were dealing themselves into the business at the expense of their neighbors.
Tom Bice, chairman of the Trempealeau County Land Use and Environment Committee, put a two-minute limit on afternoon testimony at Wednesday's packed hearing in the county courthouse. Several morning speakers made bitter comments about alleged pro-mining leanings of some county and township officials.
"This is insanity,'' said Susan Faber, a mining opponent who said a few people are getting rich off mines that devalue the property of others.
The committee has issued more frac sand permits than any other county in Minnesota or Wisconsin, amid a sand-mining boom driven by the national surge in "fracking'' for oil and natural gas.
Faber expressed outrage that one of the committee members, David Quarne, owns a sand transport hub and can't vote on or discuss the issue at a critical time in the industry's development.
"They are not just pro-mining, they are investing in it,'' she said in an interview.
One of the mining sites approved Wednesday is on land owned by Ivan Pronschinske, who serves on the Board of Supervisors in Arcadia Township, near Whitehall. Pronschinske abstained from the town board vote that supported his application. But months earlier he voted to put a major restriction on a mine proposed by his neighbor. The mining company involved in that proposal was approved Wednesday as Pronschinske's partner.
The other venture approved Wednesday is tied to Robert Tenneson, the longtime chairman of nearby Preston Township. Tenneson was an early supporter of frac sand mining, and the county's largest sand mine was sited in his township more than two years ago. Now Tenneson owns a stake in a frac sand complex that will dig and haul frac sand at a rate of up to 200 semi-trailers a day.
His neighbors testified angrily that they were never personally notified of the mining plans. County officials said such notifications weren't legally required.
"If it's so good for everyone, why the secrecy?'' asked neighbor Paula Glynn.
Robert and Lorna Tenneson did not testify, but in an interview, Robert Tenneson said he was careful not to violate state conflict of interest laws. Lorna said her husband is known for his honesty and dedication to the township.
Public testimony at the hearing was dominated by opponents of the proposed mines, but many supporters signed in as well, including Wally Everson, a township supervisor in neighboring Jackson County who has a deal that could bring a frac sand facility to his property.
Tony Kennedy • 612-673-4213