Legislature Debating Nonmetallic Mining Law

 Iron ore mining features heavily in Wisconsin’s history, but that is not the only type of mining the state is known for. Wisconsin has long been considered one of the nation’s best sources of industrial sand and stone. While many quarries have dotted the landscape for past 100 years, the sand mining boom in Western Wisconsin has taken the state’s production to a new level. Senate Bill 349/Assembly Bill 476, relating to the regulation of nonmetallic mining, is designed to address some of the industry’s growing pains.

The nonmetallic mining industry has traditionally been regulated through zoning, but there is an emerging trend of nonmetallic mining regulation by police power licensing ordinances that have come about since a Wisconsin State Supreme Court decision known as Zwiefelhofer vs. the Town of Cooks Valley was issued in February of 2012. The decision has resulted in duplicative and overlapping local authority on siting decisions and environmental regulations administered by the DNR.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) and Rep. Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan), addresses these issues by providing:

  • Local siting decision relating to nonmetallic mining should be addressed through local zoning, by the zoning authority, rather than by multiple units of local government through the application of general police power authority.
  • Prohibits local governments from setting their own air and water quality standards, and affirms that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is the appropriate agency to regulate health-based regulatory standards in Wisconsin. It also prohibits local government from enacting unique blasting standards; blasting is already regulated by the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Standards (DSPS) and the federal government.
  • Prohibits local government from collecting upfront payment for potential future road damage caused by an individual user under a road agreement, but does allow for recovery of actual damages and posting of limited financial assurance.

The bill is strongly supported by business organizations, organized labor and the nonmetallic mining industry. Opponents of the measure include the Towns Association, environmental groups and citizens from Western Wisconsin concerned about the growth of industrial sand mining in that region of the state.

The fate of the bill is uncertain. Speaker Robin Vos has indicated that he supports the bill, but that the Assembly would not have time to consider the measure before next year. The Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economy and Mining has not yet held a hearing on the bill.

Sen. Tiffany, the bill’s sponsor and chairman of the Senate Committee on Workforce Development, Forestry, Mining, and Revenue, has not yet indicted when a committee vote might take place, but informed the audience at the October 24 hearing on the bill that he will be working with interested parties to consider constructive suggestions on how the bill could be improved.