Buffalo County (like many others in this region) is locked in a win/lose battle where either mining interests are going to win or the people who oppose them will win. As long as we continue to frame the discussion the way we have, somebody has to lose.
Here are three maps to describe what is happening. We’ve all got some work to do if we’re going to figure out a way to turn this into a win/win conversation where opportunities and way of life are preserved for all of us rather than those of us who win.
Our county: Divided by incompatible land-uses
In the southeastern two thirds of the county lies the scenic river and coulee country where the focus is on recreation and tourism. In the northeast are the rolling sand hills that actually extend across much of central Wisconsin all the way up into the northwestern lakes region where the economic emphasis is more on agriculture and small industry.
A bad idea: Turning the Coulee Country into a transportation corridor
This is a representation of the situation that will develop as sand trucks trucks are routed through Coulee Country on their way to destinations in Minnesota. This is a classic “win/lose” situation where one side will prevail at the expense of the other.
Each side of this win/lose conversation is afraid of losing the battle. That fear is turning into anger, the anger has split our communities. This, in my view, is a Bad Thing.
A really bad idea: Turning the Coulee Country into a transportation hub
But wait — the stakes in the win/lose conversation get even higher if the Coulee Country moves from being a transportation corridor to being a hub. Permits are being sought to build a rail spur and frac sand processing facility at the intersection of Wisconsin highways 88 and 35. If that facility goes forward as planned we not only become the transit provider for local sand, but regional sand will start flowing into the county as well. Winona’s processing facility has been closed to Wisconsin sand trucks, with Wabasha probably not far behind. What happens to the Coulee Country in a scenario like this? It’s not surprising that people are frightened.