Monday, October 31, 2011

Dan Frolo's Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor and fellow Sparta area citizens…with specific questions addressed to US Silica’s Mr. Brian Slobodow and the City of Sparta Management team:
Great news!  The city of Sparta grew by 520 acres this week!  This happened when the two property owners of that land asked that it become part of the city. The Sparta City council obliged them after hearing a few comments from some city and township residents.
The mayor and some council members said (disclaimer: my quotes are all paraphrased), “Anytime the city has the opportunity to grow we’re going to jump on it.”

The new city land (not city owned but land within the city) at the southwest corner of the city borders the LaCrosse River, Amundson Park and the LaCrosse-Sparta Bike Trail. It has Hammer Ave and Iband Rd at its west and south edge. From an aerial overview (try google maps) the 520 acres looks to be about 1/3 to 1/2 covered with woods. The remaining portion is farm cropland. Take a drive and look at this very picturesque addition to the city.
What we should now wonder is why would two property owners opt to pay city taxes instead of lower township taxes?
I went to 17838 Hammer Rd, the house on the land, and spoke with Brian Slobodow. Mr Slobodow is the CEO of US Silica. Their website is Slobodow has been US Silica’s CEO since March 2011 and on their board since 2010. He said his company has an option to buy the 520 acres from the 2 property owners. Slobodow said he wanted the property annexed to the city so that as he continues with his plans for the property it will be easier to deal with one government entity (City of Sparta) rather than 3 (Sparta Township, Monroe County and City of Sparta) to garner approval for his plans.
US Silica. Silica…hey, that’s sand right; and what are Slobodow’s plans?
That’s correct; US Silica is in the business of mining sand. Slobodow plans on dredge mining the land over the next 20-25 years for apparently valuable sand. Slobodow does this by digging down until water leaches into the site thus creating a lake. Then a dredge boat (small, insignificant in size compared to the lake Slobodow said) will move along the water surface dredging the lake to a depth of 70 plus feet.
Slobodow said he hopes the mine is in operation by fall/winter 2012. His site plan is to build the plant he needs towards the east side of the land. Then he plans on starting the lake and dredge mining at about the center of the property and moving to the west. Slobodow said he doesn’t plan on touching the western portion of the land for at least a decade. He said he’ll probably just lease it out for farming as it is now until the mining operation gets that far.
Slobodow’s plan (he had two great pictures of site plans) is to leave a rather wide buffer of trees where it exists along Hammer Rd and along the LaCosse River. His mined sand product will (for the most part) leave the site by railroad from a new 5-track rail siding he’ll build along Iband Ave. Along Iband the trees that are there (not many) will remain.
Also, along Hammer Rd where the property is visible from the road, he intends some sort of sight-line barrier. He said he’ll work with the property owners on what that barrier would be. Some ideas are earth berms, trees or hedges.
Regardless Slobodow said, “even if you do see into the mining operation you’re going to be looking at a lake and how bad could that be?” 
From Slobodow’s site-plan pictures it looks like he would leave in place most of the woods that are there, only removing a small portion. He did say that the view for people on Hammer Rd would not change from what it is now. It wasn’t discussed but I wonder if the two property owners are going to log that land before they finalize their deal with Slobodow. That could happen and then trees (buffer) would be gone and it would not be Slobodow’s doing.
Slobodow said his Sparta sand mining plant would employ 40-70 people at a starting wage of $16-17 per hour. For the vast majority of those a college education would not be required. There may be a few managers/supervisors at a salary of $52,000 plus per year.
Slobodow needs permission for his plan from the City of Sparta Planning Commission. This permission is known as a Conditional Use Permit. It will probably be put to the commission for vote on November 14, 2011. Mayor John Sund said even though the approval process could stop with the Sparta Planning Commission he would do his best to ensure that the Planning Commission forwards their approval (if it is approved by them) to the full City Council for them to weigh in. Sund is the chairman of the Planning Commission.

Before the Planning Commission vote I expect there will be a public hearing. 
I hope Slobodow has more meetings of his own to continue to inform the public about his plan. If he does,
Slobodow said, “If I do not get a Conditional Use Permit I will not buy the land.” He expects to make a decision by the end of this year.
Please call City Hall and ask your alderman, mayor and city administrator (tel 608-269-4340) what they know about this and how they feel. Tell them how you feel. Mayor Sund’s and the aldermen’s personal phone numbers are on the City of Sparta website (
Think of questions to ask the city and Mr Slobodow like:
(and please Mayor Sund, Aldermen, Mr Witt and Mr Slobodow provide answers to these questions and more well in advance of any Planning Commission vote. You can schedule meetings and you have two Sparta newspapers for this).
      What impact will this mine operation have on Sparta’s Fire Department?
      Are there dangerous chemicals involved?
      Who will plow Hammer Rd and Iband Ave?
      Who will maintain (repairs) Hammer Rd and Iband Ave?
      What impact will this have on the bicycle trails?
      What impact will this have on snowmobile trails?
      What impact will this have on Sparta’s Water Department?
      What impact will this have on the Sparta Waste Water Treatment Plant?
      What impact will this have on adjacent properties drinkable water supply?
  What impact will this have on adjacent properties septic systems?
  What impact will this have on Hammer Rd and Iband Ave regarding increased traffic?
  What impact will this have on Hammer Rd and Iband Ave regarding damage?
  What impact will this have on the Railroad Crossing at Hammer Rd regarding increased traffic?
  What impact will this have on the Railroad Crossing at Hammer Rd regarding damage?
  What does the Canadian-Pacific Railroad think of this?
  What does the Township of Sparta Board think of this?
  What do adjacent property owners think of this regardless whether they are Sparta City or Township residents?
  How does this fit the Sparta area (township, city, county) Smart Growth plans?
  What is the City of Sparta going to do for any property owner (township or city) if their property value is negatively impacted by this plant?
  What is US Silica going to do for any property owner (township or city) if their property value is negatively impacted by this plant?
  The Town of Sparta is losing about $3,500 per year in taxes because of this. Will the City of Sparta or US Silica reimburse them $70,000 for this ($3,500 x 20 years)?
  Is there anything about this mining operation that limits the use of the land afterwards?
  What is US Silica’s plan for the sand mine (lake mine and property) in 20-25 years when the area has been mined out? Sold, donated, green space, hunting land, farm land, homes, industry…?
  Does US Silica have any mining sites that are done? Where? If not, when?
  What has happened to any finished mining sites?
  What is the relationship between US Silica and other communities they are located in? Please provide community points of contact.
  What does Slobodow’s proposed Sparta plant look like? Is a picture available?
  Where is the closest similar mining operation? Can we visit it?
  What is the height of the plant buildings and structures?
  What is the current right-of-way along the LaCrosse River? Can it be increased?
  Will Slobodow allow access to the woods, LaCrosse River, and other portions of the property for hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, canoeing or snowmobiling?
--This list is not all inclusive…let’s put our thinking caps on.
Dan Frolo

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