, ,

Frac Sand Land Battle In Western Wisconsin Heading To State Appeals Court

Town Of Lincoln Suing To Stop Annexation of 1,200 Acres To City Of Whitehall For Mine

Joe Gratz (CC)

A dispute over a proposed frac sand mine in Trempealeau County is headed to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. Depending on the outcome, the case could have statewide implications for how cities and villages grow their borders.

In 2015, the Whitehall City Council annexed a zigzagging 1,200-acre parcel slated for a frac sand mine and processing operation from its neighbor, the Town of Lincoln. The company agreed to pay the city royalties on each ton of sand shipped, an agreement worth at least $15 million over 20 years.

Lincoln sued to stop the annexation, but a circuit court judge dismissed the case in February.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Under state law, towns can’t sue to stop annexations unless the state Department of Administration determines the land being taken isn’t “contiguous” with the municipality’s borders.

In June 2015, the DOA found “… that the territory annexed from the Town of Lincoln is not ‘contiguous’ to the city of Whitehall.” This opened the door for a lawsuit, which Lincoln filed a month later.

But last week, a Trempealeau County Circuit Court judge disagreed with the state and ruled the annexation was contiguous. Lincoln Town Board Chairman Jack Speerstra said there’s ambiguity about the definition of contiguity in state law.

“Contiguity is not very well defined under the law, and this judge looked up two definitions of contiguity in a couple of dictionaries and used those, and he felt this annexation was contiguous compared to those definitions,” Speerstra said.

Speerstra and his fellow town board members have decided to appeal the circuit court decision. He said he opposes the annexation mostly because Town of Lincoln residents living nearby the frac sand mine won’t have a say in how it’s regulated, because the city will set the rules for a mine 6 miles away from Whitehall’s border. But Speerstra said an appeals court decision could set precedent.

“Absent a really good definition of contiguity, we wind up trying to get the court to define contiguity for us,” Speerstra said.

This is the second annexation court battle for the Town of Lincoln. Speerstra estimates they’ve spent around $50,000 on legal fees. That’s what the town takes in from local taxes per year, Speerstra said.

Representatives of Whitehall did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.