A group of local residents and experts gave a presentation to the Osceola Village Board concerning the proposed expansion of the North 40 Resources mine at the board’s regularly scheduled meeting on May 13.
The proposed expansion would add an additional 200 acres to the mine’s current 80 acre operation. The East Farmington town board is currently working on an ordinance to regulate the expansion should it be approved, and a moratorium on new mining permits has been put in place until June 30 to allow time to finalize that ordinance.
“As of today we don’t really know what that ordinance is going to look like,” said local resident Mike Forecki, who spearheaded the presentation to the Osceola board.
One of Forecki’s largest concerns about the expansion is whether or not the operation should be allowed to mine below the water table. This concern is shared by the East Farmington board, which has discussed that topic at length in recent months. Forecki said should the mine’s permit for expansion be approved, there’s little action the village could take to restrict something like mining depth.
“If that happens, there will really be nothing the village can do legally at that point,” he said. “You will have a 280 acre mine on the south end of this community.”
Forecki said any operation that large should be given adequate time for discussion before being rushed to approval.
“We think this kind of change in land use, especially because it’s going to be used for mining, deserves a really hard, close, look,” he said. “We think anything of this size will change the nature of the villages growth, will place demands on the village and we think you need time to evaluate what you want to happen.”
Forecki’s presentation included testimony from three experts. The first to speak was Paul Wotzka, a hydrologist with Land and Water Consulting. He spoke at length about the water quantity and quality concerns that come with an operation like the mine. The current operation mines both aggregates for local use and sand for industrial use. The deposits of industrial sand are deeper than other deposits the mine is interested in, so in order to reach the resources, they have to mine into the ground water table.
“Mining and processing sand within the water table raises concerns about the impacts these activities may have on polluting ground water,” Wotzka said. “The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has stated that it has reasonable concern that, for example, heavy metals in holding ponds from industrial sand mining operations could impact ground water.”
North 40 Resources is required to routinely test their ground water to ensure such pollution is not occurring, but Wotzka said the monitoring wells the mine uses to test ground water are not adequate.
“The monitoring wells are used for sampling, but they were not constructed for that purpose,” Wotzka said. “Simply they are too deep to measure the impacts and they’re located up gradient from potential polluting mining activities. These two wells, because of their construction and location, should not be used to determine if the existing mine is polluting groundwater.”
Other limited testing and sampling of settling ponds done by the mine show elevated concentrations of aluminum, arsenic, copper, lead and zinc. The gradient, or directional flow of ground water, is of particular concern to residents who live in and around the St. Croix River, according to Wotzka.
“Those residents and their drinking water wells are down gradient of the mine,” he said. “So it’s important to understand that the mine can potentially pollute those residential drinking wells, given this generalized flow direction.”
Should the village wish to take regulatory action in regard to the mine, they would need to enact extraterritorial zoning. Forecki brought on Sarah Korte, an attorney from the La Crosse area to speak about this possibility.
“Extraterritorial zoning would allow the village to exercise their zoning authority 1.5 miles outside of the village,” she said. “Villages often use this at times when they’re trying to think about the future of their village, their growth and what they want the extending community to look like.”
Current state regulations allow a village to enact extraterritorial zoning with only a resolution.
“So you wouldn’t have to jump into an intensive zoning process,” Korte said. “The village could put together a resolution saying it’s their intent to exercise zoning over this area and that would be adopted, we’d publish it 15 days later and send a copy to the town clerk.”
The board took no action following the presentation, but discussed future options. Village trustee Deb Rose said the mine expansion will impact both Osceola and East Farmington significantly, and that the villages should work together to figure out what’s best for both communities.
“We might have a different view of what we see up in that area where the mine is, compared to the township of East Farmington,” she said. “I think we need to be good neighbors and work together and have a discussion so we can come to a better resolution on this.”
Forecki said regardless of what action the board takes, it should be done quickly.
“Unfortunately there’s a clock that continues to tick on this thing,” he said. “The minute the town approves an ordinance and once the (mining) application is approved, the door is closed.”