(COOKS VALLEY) A lawsuit between a western Wisconsin town and landowners looking to mine sand used in oil and gas drilling may be headed to the state Supreme Court.
The lawsuit alleges that the Town of Cook's Valley, just north of Chippewa Falls, passed an illegal ordinance to regulate companies looking to mine silica sand, otherwise known as frac sand. If a municipality is zoned an industrial operation like a sand mine needs a permit that sets standards for things like location, noise pollution and hours of operation. But Cook's Valley isn't zoned and therefore has much less power over industrial activities.
Attorney John Behling represents four landowners working with frac sand companies who filed the lawsuit. He says the town used police powers, which pertain to public safety, to dictate where and how a mine can be built.
"It's a police power that was overreaching and went too far, and we felt that it was more of an attempt to enact a zoning code," Behling said.
The ordinance was ruled invalid by a circuit court judge and went on to Wisconsin's 3rd District Court of Appeals. It was then passed off to the state Supreme Court to establish a test to find whether the town's ordinance is really a zoning issue. Attorney Glenn Stoddard helped write the Cook's Valley mining ordinance. He says the ordinance is an across the board regulation meant to protect residents.
"There's a lot of prospecting and development," says Stoddard. "And as a result there's also a lot of public concern and local governments in a number of areas are trying to figure out how to regulate these activities in order to protect the public."
Other unzoned municipalities that have looked into similar regulations of frac sand mining include Howard, Sioux Creek and Chetek.