Thanks to Eric Zingler, for this update on the proposed open pit mine near the Elroy-Sparta Trail, the nation’s oldest rail trail. Eric is a consultant and writer with a passion for biking who lives on an acreage near the Elroy-Sparta Bike Trail. The permit application will go before the Monroe County Board’s Committee on Sanitation, Planning & Zoning, & Dog Control, March 16th. Click here for the agenda and meeting details. The more people who attend, the better. If you cannot attend, please call or send an email asking the Board to rethink the permit or require a culvert so the dump trucks will not have to cross the trail at the very least.
COMMITTEE: Sanitation, Planning & Zoning, & Dog Control
DATE: March 16, 2015
TIME: 6:00 P.M.
PLACE: Rolling Hills – Auditorium 14345 County Hwy B Sparta, WI 54656,
I appreciate this opportunity to give you an update on the Mathy Quarry controversy affecting the Elroy – Sparta Trail. Mathy Construction is a multi-state operation which operates gravel and frac sand mines. They purchased approximately 300 acres adjacent to the Elroy – Sparta Trail a short distance from the Tunnel Trail Campground and expect to open a gravel quarry with a high capacity well and send 50-75 trucks per day down a 13% grade on the top of the hill on Logan Road across the bike trail. I and many Elroy-Sparta Trail users would prefer the Monroe County Board deny Mathy’s permit request to operate an open mine. If not that, we want Mathy to install a culvert under the trail so the dump trucks don’t have to cross the trail at the same grade as people on bicycle and on foot.
The Propublica investigative journalism site lists 14 Mathy federal government road construction awards, with eleven in Iowa, and only one in Wisconsin. It is clear that the gravel they want is not for “regional use” as many pro quarry supporters claim, and it is destined for multi-state use. As I wrote in one letter to the editor last year, “this is not your grandpa’s gravel pit.”
Mathy’s ability to mine frac sand further exacerbates the issue of their land purchase next to the trail. A DNR interactive map shows 229 frac mine areas and facilities with a significant number north of the Elroy – Sparta Trail. Currently frac sand companies are going for “easy sand” in lower elevation areas, but frac sand can be mined on the scenic bluffs with more expense and effort and apparently also at Mathy’s site by the trail even though they deny at this time they intend to mine frac sand. An old small hilltop quarry that was in its day used for local roads along with residents eager to sell at premium prices contributed to Mathy’s choice of the trailside site.
Monroe County has no substantial non-metallic mining policies and with 49 pits has become a sandbox for “Big Sand.” An appropriate moniker since Wisconsin has approximately 2,500 non-metallic (sand and gravel) mines in Wisconsin and it is estimated that Wisconsin is on track to extract “50 million tons of frac sand a year – the equivalent of 9,000 semi-truck loads a day and enough to fill the nation’s second tallest building, the former Sear Towers in Chicago, 21 times a year”. This map shows the pressure on Wisconsin as the Fracking Industry’s leading supplier of sand. Air born silica dust is a proven health hazard and is affecting lives. The Wisconsin Towns Association offers this cost benefit study related to frac sand mining. On page 69 they advise communities to ask this question: “What will be the costs to other economic activities and businesses?” The Frac Industry is moving us into uncharted territory which history has taught is always full of unanticipated consequences.
Creating the “perfect storm” for Mathy’s unrestricted land grab near the trail was Mathy’s hold on the Wilton Township Board. Despite over six months of letters to the editor which expressed concern, objections and asked for compromise, it was a done deal from the start and any opposition was summarily dismissed. One comment reported by Dave explains it all. In a moment of braggadocio one board member exclaimed in response to a request to recuse himself from the vote “you haven’t done your research well, I have three family members [not just one] working for Mathy” and not recusing himself, made the motion to approve Mathy’s petition. Even when Mathy proposed the possibility of a culvert similar to the one that goes under highway 71 between Norwalk and Sparta, the eager to please board did not address it. No restrictions were placed on Mathy to protect the integrity of the trail and his juggernaut rolled on leaving a confused and angry group of opposition who subsequently tried to organize, write open letters and contact state officials to no avail. The Township Board met again in January and gave final approval to all that Mathy wanted including generous hours of operation: 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM. Monday through Friday and 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM on Saturdays (including holiday weekends).
What did the township gain? Nothing. No new jobs, no additional tax revenue and no gravel. This is the power of Big Sand and it reaches the highest government levels. All agencies that might have intervened gave the same excuse “its a local issue.” State representatives were of no help against this laissez faire state agency position. While I am well aware and subscribe to the principle of subsidiarity, that political decisions should be made at a local level if possible, the state agencies’ attitude toward this is nothing more than a cop out for a state in the grip of Big Sand. What is local about allowing 55-75 gravel trucks a day to cross the trail affecting 60,000 riders who come for fun and the experience of rural beauty and culture from all over the state and even from foreign countries? What is local about a decision that compromises and mars the “green corridor” concept that is the draw for the entire state and national trail system? What is local about risking tourism revenues in an impoverished area? City data states Wilton’s poverty rate as of 2012 is 22.7 percent twice the national average of 11%.
Who can stand up to Big Sand and what can be done? You can. The UW estimates biking and business related to biking is a $2 billion Wisconsin Industry, providing more than 13,000 jobs. As in the game, rock, paper, sizzors, bikes roll over sand. People power will prevail once they become aware of a threat to their well-being. The protection of green corridors that are developed for the general benefit of the public such as the Elroy – Sparta Trail and the whole trail system is the moral high ground. Snaking more sand out of a County that is failing to protect its tourism landmarks and natural resources is not.
If you cannot attend, please make your feelings known to the Monroe County Zoning Board through this contact.
Alison Elliott, Director
Monroe County Zoning Board
14345 County Highway B
Sparta, WI 54656
I do however, make one request: stand by the trail in its most difficult time in 50 years. Don’t stop riding it. Call out the Board to do its duty, right a wrong, make things right. Let’s not let Mathy get everything for nothing. At the very least we should get them to agree to install a culvert rather than have the dump trucks rolling over the trail! We should also point out the lack of protection for tourism landmarks, the same year the Elroy-Sparta Trail turns 50. In a couple of generations the driftless hills and ridges could be ravaged by Big Sand. Ironically, in the next few years, we we might destroy what the mile high glaciers left whole for millions of years.
I will be at the meeting March 16th to say my piece, and I hope all your emails and letters will be there too. If we speak up now the Zoning Board might just listen. They might do the right thing, but don’t count on it. If the Board votes in favor of Mathy, we need to be prepared to fight on and demand the culvert. Big Sand is entrenched, but we can make a difference, keep it check, extract concessions, and preserve green corridors and special places if we keep pressure and demands on local and state decision makers.
Also, please come join us on June 6th at the Trail Headquarters in Kendall to celebrate the Trail’s 50th anniversary. Everyone rides free. There will be a celebration and at 2pm a ribbon cutting ceremony and proclamation. Thanks for your help and support.