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Wis. high court upholds town’s mining ordinance (UPDATE)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a Chippewa County town was within its legal rights when it approved an ordinance regulating the mining of non-metals.

At issue was an ordinance that the Town of Cooks Valley passed in 2008 to limit the development of sand-mining operations. The ordinance required that mine operators seeking to open a gravel pit or sand mine obtain a permit first, and it also gave the town the power to hold public hearings and place conditions on mine operations.

Four landowners challenged the ordinance, saying it amounted to a zoning ordinance and shouldn’t be considered valid since it wasn’t approved by the county board.

The state Supreme Court disagreed, saying the measure lacked a number of characteristics traditionally found in zoning ordinances.

The ordinance “is the same as a traditional zoning ordinance only if we define the purpose with a sweeping level of generality,” Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson wrote for the court.

The town was trying to regulate sand mines because it was concerned about water quality, traffic safety, deterioration of roads, and reclamation of the site after mining operations wrapped up, said David Clements, a member of the Cooks Valley Town Board.

Sand from the Chippewa Valley is in high demand because it’s round and hard. That makes it especially useful for hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a drilling technique used to extract petroleum from the ground.

A Chippewa County judge sided with the landowners in 2010 and invalidated the measure. Judge Jim Isaacson ruled that it did constitute a zoning ordinance and said it should have been passed as such.

An appeals court declined to weigh in. Instead it referred the case to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which overturned Isaacson’s ruling.

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