Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board denies access to frac sand mine (updated)

Advocates for preserving the natural character of the state-protected Lower Wisconsin Riverway are claiming "the river won" following a vote late Thursday against permitting a frac sand mine to operate near the shore in Bridgeport.

“I’m just thrilled,” said Edie Ehlert, coordinator with the Crawford Stewardship Project, following the 6-2 vote by the state-sanctioned Riverway board. “They voted for the intent of the law. They voted for the river.”

The vote (one member was absent) means a frac sand mine owned by Iowa-based Pattison Sand Co. cannot extend 41 acres into the protected riverway, as originally planned.

Beth Regan, Pattison Sand’s permits and compliance coordinator, confirmed Friday the company plans to move forward with mining operations on the remainder of the mining site that amounts to roughly 250 acres of land between Wisconsin Highway 60 and the lower Wisconsin River.

The land is located about five miles west of Wyalusing State Park.

“We are disappointed,” Regan said in an email Friday. “The law is clearly written.”

The board’s mission, according to state statute, is to "protect and preserve the scenic beauty and natural character of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway through administration of a program to control land use and development."

The board not only has a say in what can be built along the riverway, but what can be seen from the river when the leaves are on the deciduous trees, roughly from May to September.

Based on field inspection determinations that portions of the frac sand mine would be visible from the river, Mark Cupp, the Riverway Board’s executive director, recommended the board approve the mining permit but with 10 conditions and an additional 12 voluntary actions that should be taken by Pattison Sand.

These conditions included the initial permit only be granted for a two-year period with quarterly reviews by the riverway board and restricted the mine’s operating hours. The permit approved by the town of Bridgeport for the part of the mine that exists outside the riverway allows it to operate 24 hours a day.

Cupp said Friday the assistant attorney general assigned to the case by the state Department of Justice had agreed with and approved of his recommendations.

"I am disappointed the board didn’t take my recommendation to approve the (mining) permits with conditions," Cupp said. "I will now support the board’s decision and defend it."

Melody Moore, a town of Mazomanie supervisor who represents Dane County on the Riverway Board, voted against allowing the mine in the riverway. Prior to the vote, she read out loud an article in which authors of the riverway ordinance, including retired state Rep. Spencer Black, were quoted as saying the ordinance was not designed to allow for industrial mines when it was written in the late 1980s.

“I am delighted with the decision,” said Black, who said he celebrated by biking about 30 miles from his Madison home to the riverway Friday morning. “I think it is an important vote not just because of this one mine but because it is a vote to maintain the integrity of the protection of the riverway.”

The future of the rest of the mine not located in the state-protected riverway is also in question. A lawsuit filed Wednesday by four Bridgeport residents who live near the mine and the Crawford Stewardship Project alleges the permits issued by Bridgeport should be revoked for several reasons.

Chief among them are conflict of interest allegations against four current and former Bridgeport officials who voted to approve the frac sand mine.

Accusations are being levied that former town supervisor and zoning administrator Rod Marfilius, who sold the rights for 108 acres of his land to Pattison; town clerk and Bridgeport Planning Commission member Linda Smrcina; Linda’s son, Troy Smrcina, who also serves on the town Planning Commission; and Planning Commissioner Alan Flansburgh stood to benefit or had relatives that would benefit from the construction of the frac sand mine.

Glenn Reynolds, the attorney for the residents, said the statute is clear that a government official should not take action on a matter “in which the official, a member of his or her immediate family, or an organization with which the official is associated has a substantial financial interest.”

“Public officials cannot do this,” Reynolds said. “It’s up to a judge to decide if the process be done again.”

Jessica VanEgeren

Capitol Report

Jessica VanEgeren joined The Capital Times in 2008, primarily covering Capitol politics and law enforcement. She previously covered business in the Madison area and state government and politics in South Carolina.

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