Why Fracking May Ruin Your Thanksgiving
Continued from previous page
Sand mining has also poisoned community relations in the small Wisconsin towns that produce the cranberries Americans enjoy on Thanksgiving. Greeno accuses the sand mines of “pitting neighbor against neighbor and friends against friends.” He cites a farmer who sold his farm to a nearby cranberry grower because he did not want the sand mines to have it. But unbeknownst to him, the cranberry grower had already done a deal with a sand mine behind his back, and the land went to the sand mine anyway.
“All the little townships up there, the town boards are fighting, and the residents are mad,” says Greeno. “The sand mines come in then and write the town boards checks for a couple hundred thousand.” For example, a blog that opposes the Tunnel City mine accuses the mining company Unimin of paying more than $2 million for land owned by the town chair’s relatives. The progressive blog Blue Cheddar quotes a Wisconsin resident who called a payment from a sand mining company “hush money.”
With the quick rise of Wisconsin’s frack sand boom, both regulators and residents were taken by surprise. Regulations designed for the enormous open-pit mines were not in place when the mining companies showed up, and the Department of Natural Resources simply lacks the staff to deal with the silica dust particles from the new mines. According to Greeno, “A lot of the sand mines were already here buying land before anybody really knew what was going on.” Residents did not have time to form an opposition before the mines came into their towns.
But now, residents are starting to get organized. The town of Grant just passed a six-month moratorium on sand mines to hold off a proposed 800- to 1,200-acre sand mine by the corporation U.S. Silica. The town of Angelo also passed a six-month moratorium, but that is coming to an end on December 31 and the town has not yet decided on its way forward.
At the same time, the sand mining industry is organizing, forming the Wisconsin Industrial Sand Association (WISA), a lobbying and public relations group that says it will “self-regulate” its members. "Self-regulation” is a common corporate tactic to stave off government regulation. Unlike government regulation, corporate self-regulation is not enforceable.
The battle for land and sand in Wisconsin’s cranberry country will continue to rage on for several Thanksgivings to come, most likely. And the fight ought to remind us of what we are most thankful for this time of year: not cranberries, but loving families and healthy, happy communities that are free of the fighting and backstabbing that Wisconsin’s sand mining boom has spawned.