Limiting Local Control to Our Detriment

  • Sand Mine

Senator Tom Tiffany has introduced yet another bill, Senate Bill (SB) 632, to limit local government control over nonmetallic mining.

In a press release dated 2/26/14, Senator Tiffany included a quote from the Wisconsin Towns Association (WTA) Executive Director stating that the WTA did not oppose SB 632 and its Assembly companion bill, AB 816. This was a critical statement for Senator Tiffany because the WTA had strongly opposed his earlier version of the bill, SB 349, introduced in Fall 2013. In typical fashion, Senator Tiffany scheduled an immediate public hearing for his bill on 3/3/14, within days of its release.

But the WTA’s position on both bills changed from neutral to opposed by the day of the public hearing. On Monday, 3/3/14, the WTA Board of Directors voted to oppose the bills. By memo to Senator Tiffany’s Committee dated 3/4/14, the WTA executive director explained that the WTA had changed its position “because many town officers and others contacted the Association via email, telephone and in person at the District meeting in Eau Claire on Friday, February 28, 2014 and expressed their concerns and opposition to these bills.”

The WTA’s memo to Senator Tiffany’s Committee on Workforce Development, Forestry, Mining and Revenue, explained in no uncertain terms exactly why SB 632 and AB 816 would prevent essential local control over nonmetallic mining.

The WTA explained that under the bills, “Pre-existing nonmetallic operations would not be subject to new ordinances.” The WTA stated, “This is of concern in relation to industrial sand mining because as new technology and health impacts may be identified, if the original ordinance does not address these new issues the ordinance can not be amended to apply to existing nonmetallic operations.”

The WTA explained that the bills go beyond what is necessary to protect nonmetallic mining in Wisconsin by requiring that “any existing ordinances of ‘off-site facilities’ must have been written separately from the nonmetallic mining ordinances that may have been written in the past.” As the WTA pointed out, this requirement “will dramatically limit towns, villages and cities in regulating existing, ‘off-site facilities.'”

The WTA explained that “grandfathering protections” under the bills will give protections to possible nonmetallic mining sites “that may not open for nearly 20 years out.” Under these provisions of the bills, local governments could be prevented from updating ordinances even if new technology and health impacts warranted such updates in order for local governments to protect public health and safety.

The WTA concluded its memo to Senator Tiffany’s Committee by stating: “These bills are not needed to protect the nonmetallic mining industry, in particular the industrial sand mines of the state. No existing ordinances have prevented any industrial sand mines from operating once approved. We ask the legislature not pass SB 632 and AB 816.”

Senator Tiffany called for a vote on SB 632 in the Committee he chairs on Wednesday, 3/6/14. His bill passed out of that committee on a vote of 3 to 2.

Senator Tiffany continues to “author” legislation that seeks to prevent citizens and local units of government from pursuing their right to direct their own affairs. His High-Capacity Well legislation, SB 302, is still pending; he’s taken a second shot at limiting local control over nonmetallic mining (SB 632); he was selected to push through the Non-Ferrous Mining legislation; and he succeeded in changing our State’s Managed Forest Law. His allegiances are clear. And they are not to us.

Senator Tiffany may be emboldened. But his is not empowered. We The People have the power. We can vote.