Mining expansion (and job creation) could screech to halt in Wood County due to a road user fee

[Marshfield, Wisc…] Frac sand is a round, very hard type of sand used in natural gas and oil drilling.  The sand is pumped into fractures in rock, holding the fractures open while allowing the gas or oil to flow through.  Frac sand mines have been expanding throughout Wisconsin in recent years and the sand is shipped all over the world.

Right now there are three frac sand mining companies in Marshfield.  Jason Angell, Marshfield Economic Director, told the MacIver News Service the mines are making a big impact on the local economy.  According to economic modeling, the mines will eventually account for 900 jobs in the region and contribute $58 million to the local economy.

“To say, this means a lot to us, it absolutely does,” said Angell.  “It’s pretty hard to ignore those numbers.”

However, the Wood County Highway Commissioner is attempting to get the mining companies to sign a road user agreement that would require them to pay a fee of one dollar per ton per mile on their trucks.  Angell said the commissioner is authorized to make those agreements by state law.

Naturally, the mining companies are resisting.

“At the moment it’s still being discussed.  I’ve told them there’s no agreement I’m going to sign,” Paul Salt, owner of Panther Creek Mining, told the MacIver Institute.

Panther Creek currently employs 17 employees in Marshfield, plus about 5 fulltime truck drivers.  Salt has plans to expand, but says where depends on whether Wood County decides to push forward on the user fee.

“I’ve already made an investment in Marshfield, so I’m staying there,” he said.  “But any growth in Marshfield would be subsequently curtailed.  Any expansions I want to make will then happen in Clark County.”

Earlier this month the Wood County Board of Supervises considered putting the agreements on hold, hoping to prevent companies from turning to neighboring counties.

“We’ve come forward and said put this on hold until the state comes forward with some proposal that is uniform to all the counties involved in this industry,” said Angell.

The Board sent the proposed resolution back to committee for redrafting, after a majority of the supervisors did not feel comfortable with the current draft. Angell said they hope to take the issue back up in November.

The MacIver News Service attempted to contact Senator Julie Lassa and Representative Amy Sue Vruwink, who represent Marshfield in Madison.  Neither had responded at the time this story was posted.

Both Angell and Salt say the user fee would pay for 100 percent of the county’s road maintenance expenses, even though the mining companies only consist of 10 percent of the use.

Wood County Highway Commissioner Doug Passineau did not respond to request for comment by the time this story was posted.

Paul Salt plans on meeting with county officials next week in order to get some more information about the user fee proposal.  As of right now, he and Angell say the highway department has yet to reveal any research or numbers supporting the need for the fee.