Sunday, May 20, 2012

Tunnel City is Ground Zero in "How Rural America Got Fracked"

Read author and journalist's Ellen Cantarow's expose for, "How Rural America Got Fracked." She begins with a preamble about silicosis--a danger sand mines pose to neighbors--and then moves on to the economics and politics of sand mining in rural America in a story that features interviews with many Tunnel City residents.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Last Chance to Comment on Unimin's Air Permit For Tunnel City Sand Mine

Tomorrow is the deadline for commenting on Unimin's air permit application for the Tunnel City sand mine. The Department of Natural Resources requires Unimin to get such a permit showing that it will build a facility that meets state and federal standards for air emissions. In Unimin's case, that means that they have to build a mine and processing plant with controls that will limit emissions and the release of particulate matter. There are limits on emissions for particulate matter that is ten microns or less or 2.5 microns or less.

Friday, February 10, 2012

DNR Holds Air Quality Hearing In Tomah

The Department of Natural Resources is holding an air quality hearing today at Tomah City Hall. Gene Prell asks if the hearing is simply a formality that will rubber-stamp what is essentially a done deal.

"It galls me that we as residents and the "recipients" of their air quality standards have no bearing on whether or not the air quality permit is approved," writes Prell. He says that it's interesting that the DNR is looking only at state and federal standards and not reviewing standards set by other states on silica emissions. Perhaps even more disgraceful is the fact that the DNR is not initiating further studies of potential problems.

"I'm too darned old to be affected by it," writes Prell, "but I sure wouldn't recommend that any of the grandkids live close to a mine."

Here is the Tomah Journal's coverage of the issue.

Sand Deposits Are Nearly 350 Feet Deep--What Will Digging It Out Do To Our Water?

Gene Prell points out that at the last town of Greenfield board meeting, Unimin's Steve Groening gave a Power Point presentation that showed that the test borings show sand as deep as 343 or 347 feet.

That is deep, writes Prell. "Unimin might start out with an open pit mine and everything would be fine, but if they start mining below the water table--and you know that the water table is probably no more than 30 feet below the tracks at the mine site--I would think that it would have a significant impact on the water table. That could impact the water table at Spring Bank, no matter how much water they pump from Tomah.  The end result could be devastating. Unimin will not divulge their plans and once they get their permits they will essentially be free to do whatever they please within certain few limits for scores of years and we will not be able to do anything about it. "

Thursday, February 9, 2012

State Supreme Court Says Towns Can Regulate Sand Mines

Many town of Greenfield residents wanted to pass regulations governing sand mines. But it was a gray area legally, because Greenfield, like many Wisconsin townships, is unzoned. That means anyone who owns land can use that land for whatever purpose they want. But one township in a situation similar to Greenfield's, the town of Cooks Valley in Chippewa County did enact a non-zoning ordinance regulating non-metallic mining--and sand mining is non-metallic mining. The property owner in the case challenged that ordinance, saying it was really zoning in disguise. A Chippewa County court ruled that the ordinance was invalid--but the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that that ordinance is indeed valid. This sets a huge precedent for townships across a state that is under siege by sand mines. It means that towns can adopt ordinances that require frack sand mining company to get a license to do so.

Here's link to a Wisconsin Municipal Law blog on the decision and another link to the Chippewa Herald's coverage of the case.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sand Mines and the Toxins They Produce in Local Water

Toxic residual acrylamides will result from the flocculation procedures that are part of processing of sand. This may contaminate all water that leaves the sand mine processing plant. We don't know where the millions of gallons of processing water Unimin plans to use will go.  Is it down into the ground or will it be piped somewhere?  Obviously the residual acrylamides should be monitored in the surface and soil water after Unimin processes it.

Unimin and Tomah Water: Chemicals? Drought? What's the Impact?

Dear Mayor and city council members,
I would love to call you all personally and discuss this, but with the meeting being tonight, I wanted to make sure you all considered different aspects of supplying Unimin with water besides the financial aspect of it.
I was read the letter you all received from the city administrator that explained all the wonderful financial benefits the City of Tomah would receive by supplying Unimin with their water supply.  That is the good aspects of voting yes tonight.  I am asking you to vote no.
I understand the vote tonight is to change the ordinance so further discussions can be make with Unimin on a developers agreement.  Please vote no.  My reasons are as follows:
1. First and foremost, Unimin told the town of Greenfield that they would be using 70 gallons per minute for their processing of sand.  Now they are saying they will need 1000 gallons per minute.  Their explanation during last night's town hall meeting was that they didn't have the information from their sub contracting company that they have now.  This made no sense to many people in the audience.  Unimin claims to be number on in their field and have been doing business well over 100 years.  How could they have a margin of error from 70 gallons per minute (which did not require them to get a high capacity well) to now 1000 gallons per minute?  With them being so incorrect here, are they incorrect in asking for 1 million per day as well? 
2. Has Unimin told the city what chemicals are used in the processing of sand?  And what happens to this water (and chemicals) once the sand is processed?  It goes back into the ground water.  It's "recycled."  So what happens with these chemical that are being used? 

3. What if there is a drought?  Will Unimin stop the processing of sand during those times?
4.  WHY DOES UNIMIN NOW NEED TOMAH'S WATER SUPPLY???  What has changed?  They told us last night that Greenfield has enough water to supply them.  So why do they need Tomah's?  Have they answered this question?  From my understanding at last night's meeting they expected a layer of shale that the aquifer sits below for them to drill their well into.  They admitted that when they drilled, this layer of shale was not there which surprised them.  I am no geologist, but my impression is that they don't know what will happen if they use 1 million gallons of water per day from Greenfield.  Since there is not the level of shale under this sand supporting the aquifer, what will happen to the homes and land near these wells?  Will it sink?  Is this why the want other water sources?  I suggest that Tomah hire a geologist to study this before they vote yes to the changing or the ordinance.
One thing I have learned from Unimin is that you have to take all of their responses with a grain of salt.  They have some wonderful and smart people working for their company who are good at telling people what they want to hear.   Hire a geologist to study this and educate you all before you vote!
There is no reason for Tomah to rush into changing this ordinance. These council people need to be cautious and educate themselves on every part of what a sand mine will do and not just the wonderful financial aspects of it! I'm not saying Tomah should not allow this eventually, but please, be responsible and educate yourselves first.  Unimin needs this water.  Voting No today does not mean it can't be voted on at a later time.  Please be responsible and get educated before you blindly give the popular and expected vote.  Let's understand the real reasons WHY Unimin now needs to tap into the City of Tomah's water supply first.  And don't go off what Unimin tells you.  Let's find out from a licenced geologist that is not being paid by Unimin. 
Jamie Gregar

Top Ten Concerns About Unimin Buying Tomah Water

Dear Mr. Mayor and distiguished members of the city council,

I'm writing you to request that you create a committee to study  Unimin's request that the city of Tomah sell water to Unimin. The committee should weigh the benefits of such an agreement against the possible costs. 

Here are a few questions.

1. Last summer Unimin stressed that they would not need a high capacity well, and said that they would need about 60 gallons per minute, which is less than 100,000 gallons a day. This means that six months out they are asking for ten times the amount of water that they said they would need in July. That's a huge difference.They said they would recycle the water and would need water only to replace that which evaporated. Now they want ten times that. Next summer, what will they want? Ten million gallons a day? The city of Tomah currently uses 1.3 million gallons per day. Six months after moving to the area, Unimin wants almost as much water as the city now consumes.

2. What does Unimin need this much water for? One representative of the DNR I talked to was quite surprised at this volume. It is very high. When they are done with the water, where will it go? Will there be contaminants in it? Keep in mind that Unimin does what it wants and then asks permission--just look at this story about the noncompliance letter  the DNR sent it for starting construction without the required air permit. 

3. A  big water booster pumping station just beyond Toro on the southeast side of the city had to be abandoned six or seven years ago because of benzene. Digging wells give contaminants like that new routes. There is always a risk of contamination when you dig a well--is digging a well to sell water to a business outside the city worth it?

4. What will this mean for city residents? Will this deplete the city's water? How long does Unimin want this much water?

5. You'll be drilling into a water supply that supplies not just the city of Tomah but surrounding communities. Will this deplete the water supply of eastern Monroe County--residential areas, farms, cranberry growers, lakes, fishing streams? What if there is a water shortage and water has to be rationed? Who has priority? The people? Or Unimin? 

6. Where will city residents get their drinking water if their water becomes contaminated?

7. What are the city ordinances governing sending city water to a commercial entity? 

9. Town and Country Engineering has reassured you that 365 million gallons of water a year will have no impact on the city's water supply. How far out have they looked? Have they looked at its impact on neighboring communities?  Apparently, they said that Tomah sits above a massive lake. According to the folks I talked to at the DNR, this is not the case. Tomah sits atop a sponge of consolidated sandstone and a lot of loose sand. Then, you hit granite and you hit it fast. This requires further study. Will Town and Country bid on the Unimin project? Do they do similar work for other entities? Are they looking five years down the road? Thirty? Under what circumstances could water run out?

10. Mayor Rusch, I very much appreciate the time you spent with me on the phone yesterday. You talked of the benefits of a $100 million mine to the tax base. But what is a good tax base worth if it costs you the water that you drink and the air that you breathe? Remember, the city of Tomah is downwind of this mine. Remember, silica dust, which is too fine to see and travels great distances, causes silicosis, which is ultimately fatal. 

Thanks very much for your time!

Kate Rice