Darrell Roy, 72, has lived in Wisconsin for 50 years. A pipeline welder by trade, he retired two years ago and expected to enjoy his retirement in peace on his rural land in Dane County's town of Dunn.
But then the family farm he has lived next to for 18 years changed hands and the dormant limestone quarry on the property was suddenly dormant no more.
Retirement hasn’t been as quiet as he would have liked.
Roy started noticing limestone in his well water last year when Bjoin Limestone started blasting 18 times a day. His water softener soon needed to be replaced and he has to change the filter monthly.
“Before they started blasting, that was not a problem,” Roy said. “It’s costing me money and it’s noisy. When I go outside, I need my music and my earphones. Sometimes it’s still so noisy I can barely stand it.”
In response to his and other complaints, Dane County Supervisor Patrick Miles, town of Dunn officials and Janesville-based Bjoin Limestone came to what Miles refers to as an “honor system” agreement which states neighbors would be notified when blasting would occur. Water samples are also taken on Roy's property before and after blasts and the perimeter of his home has to be inspected for blast-related cracks.
Shortly after this non-binding agreement was reached, the town of Dunn approved a blasting ordinance that limits the activity to between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.
“They didn't have to come to the table, but they did,” Miles said of Bjoin Limestone. “Some things they've done OK on, and others they haven’t done so well. They are notifying neighbors when blasts will happen, but blasts sometimes don’t happen in the agreed upon time frame. Neighbors have also complained of trucks going too fast.”
Phone calls to Bjoin Limestone Friday were not returned.
Roy is one of an untold number of Wisconsinites who live near non-metallic mines that could soon operate with next to no oversight from local cities, towns and counties if a new bill is signed into law.
Senate Bill 349, sponsored by Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, and Rep. Joan Ballweg, R-Markesan, could nullify existing blasting ordinances, except portions that deal with blasting schedules, and would prevent local units of government from imposing any regulations on any non-metallic mine unless it is done through a zoning ordinance.
Local licensing agreements, which typically set hours of operation, noise and road use guidelines, would no longer be valid.
Authors of the bill say the changes are necessary to provide regulatory certainty for mining companies across the state. Companies currently have to deal with different regulations depending on the towns and counties in which they're doing business.
Roy is concerned that the bill will mean he no longer has a voice when it comes to how the mine next door operates. That brought him to the Capitol for the first time in his life Thursday to protest the bill. Some 60 groups sent representatives to the Capitol either to testify at a public hearing on the bill or to participate in a rally outside the Capitol. Bill critics have dubbed the bill the "regulatory confusion act," the "Moscow model" and the "kneecapping local communities act."
“All the work we’ve done will be void,” Roy said. “It will be terrible.”
While much of Thursday's public hearing touched on how the bill would impact the state’s fast-growing frac sand industry, the bill would also impact local regulations involving the state’s 2,400 quarries and gravel pits, including 100 unregulated mines in Dane County.
Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said at a press conference Thursday that Dane County is in a unique situation in how it regulates its non-metallic mines. Unlike other counties, Dane County grandfathered in its non-metallic mines when its zoning laws were first put into place.
In other counties, mineral extraction — mining — sites are subject to a 12-month-use rule. In contrast, mining sites in Dane County can keep that status in perpetuity, Miles said. Of the 100 non-metallic, non-conforming sites, 17 are listed as having no mining activity but are being used for agriculture purposes. Another 25 have been mined in the past but are no longer mined and 51 are active mining sites.
“People don’t know that the cornfield next door (in some cases) is actually an unregulated mining site,” Parisi said.
He expressed concern over frac sand deposits in the western one-third of the county, saying he did not want the frac sand industry in Dane County.
“We have grave concerns over this bill,” Parisi said. “It strips the ability of local governments to regulate mining in their own backyards.”
Miles would like to introduce an ordinance amendment that would put a 12-month-use stipulation on the county’s mines. That way, if a mineral extraction site is inactive for more than one year, the landowner must apply for a conditional-use permit from the county, which can decide whether to grant it or not.
“That would eliminate about 40 percent of our non-conforming sites, but not the site in the town of Dunn because it hasn’t been inactive,” Miles said.
Roy said this bill is the latest action from state government that has “ticked him off.” He said he thought his situation was bad until he met other people at the Capitol Thursday who live near frac sand mines.
“If this bill passes there is going to be trouble. I’m telling you, it’s not good,” Roy said. “We need to get somebody with some clout in here … pool our money and get Erin Brockovich up here.”