“SAY NO FOR NOW”

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By Molly Moser

Guttenberg Press

 

The topic of frac sand mining in Clayton County drew yet another impassioned crowd for a June 6 meeting of the Say No For Now group at the Garnavillo Community Center. About 50 people, some from within Clayton County and some from other areas, heard from group leaders and shared their own opinions. 

“We support the work that the study committee has been doing and we’ve attended all those meetings, so it’s been obvious to us that the study committee has a pretty narrow focus,” said Kay Vifian, who lives near Pattison Sand Company on Great River Road and helped with the Say No For Now meeting. 

While the mine impact study committee is tasked with considering restrictions to be applied for rezoning of additional acres to heavy industrial, Say No For Now is taking a broader approach by advocating for updating the county’s current comprehensive plan and zoning ordinances, the enforcement of current ordinances, and that the County board of supervisors vote no on the rezoning of additional acreage at this time.

Clayton resident Dean Schultz started off the public comment portion of the meeting. “I grew up in Clayton with the mine before Pattison. When the mine was there, you never saw what you see now. It was indeed underground, and it can be. When Pattison decided to open up I was a senior member on the council in Clayton. Mr. Pattison said it would be an underground operation – it certainly isn’t,” said Schultz. “My father had silicosis when he died, and almost every miner he worked with had it… I’m in favor of saying no for now.”

Responding to Schultz was Angela Sessions, Pattison’s public relations representative. “I want everyone to know that this is about the future. We need to make major capital investments to continue mining operations – we’re talking millions of dollars in capital investments and that takes a long time to do,” she said. “It’s about the local economy. We put tens of millions of dollars back into the local economy every year and we would like to continue to do that.” She went on, “It’s also about our people and their families counting on the board to make the right decision, to stay in business and to keep all of us employed. The fears and concerns that are raised are exaggerated and many are addressed by Pattison Sand every single day through our safety, health and environmental management. We are a local and family owned business that cares about the people, the environment, our neighbors, and the aesthetics of the area.” 

Other speakers again raised concerns about proper reclamation of mined land, airborne particles, effects of mining on the tourism industry, and water quality. One Guttenberg property owner recommended citizens be proactive by ordering low-cost water test kits from the University of Iowa and testing their own water. 

Pam Meyer, a Pattison employee, has lived in Clayton County for 57 years and grew up on a farm near Garnavillo adjacent to a quarry. “I think that working for Pattison I see how careful they are, wanting to look at people’s issues, take care of it, reclaim the land. I will tell you the quarry next door to us isn’t reclaimed to this day. Pattison does a great job of working with the community and trying to make it right,” she said.

Two residents of Crawford County, Wisc., spoke about their experiences with the Pattison loading site in Prairie du Chien and the mine at Bridgeport. Edie Ailers of Crawford County stated she has interviewed concerned neighbors of the loading site in Prairie du Chien with regard to the noise created by the railroad-owned property Pattison now uses to load railcars. 

Tim Adkins, Pattison health and safety director, spoke on behalf of the company. “I stand on what we do to be as good as any other company out there when it comes to regulatory compliance and all these other issues, not only for our employees but also being a good neighbor in the community. We welcome your comments, we welcome your concerns. The committee is a good thing,” he said. “Understand that we do follow clear guidance from regulatory agencies and take proactive measures to prevent silicosis with our employees, and also mitigation of respirable dust including silica. There are many studies out there; we’ve done some of our own. Every study reported back to this committee has clearly indicated low risk of adverse effects. Those are the facts. On behalf of the company, dig in and find the facts.”

Schultz responded, citing concerns about dumping into area waterways and a number of MSHA violations at Pattison. All violations since 2005, when construction began on the mine, are available for public viewing at www.msha.gov by clicking the link for the Mine Data Retrieval System and searching for Pattison Sand. The mine became operational in 2008. 

Gary Siegwarth, a member of the Clayton County Conservation Awareness Network, gave concluding remarks. Siegwarth advocates for the landscape and natural resources of the area. “My perspective has changed a little bit hearing both sides of the issues. With the things we’re learning, it’s been a good process to have a study group. Think of the time that was taken and what we’ve learned so far just in the few months that the study committee has been there,” he said. “None of us are really saying we don’t want the mine - but are there things we can do to do a better job? To have the mine and have the jobs while preserving the resources at the same time? I think the study group has brought a lot of those issues forward. I like the idea of waiting.” He added, “If some more input can be gained so that we can do a little bit better job with whatever issues people have, especially to preserve the landscape, then why would we rush? People seem like they’re on one side or the other, rather than working together to make it a better idea where we can preserve the landscape.”

Pastor Harold McMillan, moderator, gave concluding remarks. “This is an issue where we stand on both sides. I think our last speaker said it well: The more we talk, the more we come closer together.” 

 

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