Staff editorial (Feb. 16, 2012)

Story by The Spectator Staff

Should Eau Claire County require that sand mining companies donate to set aside land for preservation?

Yes: 8

No: 1

According to a recent article in the Eau Claire Leader Telegram, Eau Claire County officials are considering a policy that would recommend or require silica sand mining companies to make more efforts in preserving land.

The companies that disturb large areas of land could make up for the mining’s environmental impact by buying land for preservation themselves or by donating money to the county for land purchase.

The policy is currently in its preliminary stages, but it would seek to preserve one acre of land for 10 acres mined.  In the coming weeks, the Eau Claire County Land Stewardship subcommittee and other county officials will review and discuss the policy.

There has been a lot of talk about sand mining, especially in the Midwest where there is a lot of uncertainty as to some of the supposed hazardous effects it has on the environment. The editorial board believes it’s important to observe how it affects the  environment.

But there are problems with this: if a mining company buys the land from the county, the county has the authority to recommend or require the company buy preservation land.  Similarly, when a company buys land from a private citizen, that should be out of the county’s jurisdiction.  This is an important distinction.

On one hand, if the company buys from the county, the county should be able to impose the policy, but on the other, the question remains whether or not if the land is exchanged privately, should that still be the county’s place to enforce the policy?

Some on the editorial board said it still is because if the county doesn’t enforce the policy (or preservation in any form), then no one will and that’s too risky.  But the private owner’s rights should be respected, too.

The editorial board thought the idea that companies should somehow be accountable for the actions they make in carrying out their business is positive as long as the county acts within its jurisdiction when imposing policies that relate to those businesses.

Another consideration should be the type of land that is a.) mined and b.) preserved.  In both situations, there needs to be policy in place to make them coincide.  For example, the type of environment that is being mined should be similar to the type of land preserved so that down the line it doesn’t get lopsided.

It wouldn’t make sense to mine and potentially harm 10 acres of pristine environment and then preserve one that’s less than adequate.

This is all very shaky business as the jury’s still out on the harmful effects of sand mining.

It’s going to take time to gain more knowledge in order to make better informed decisions about how to manage land involved in this.