County conservation officials say keeping tabs on frac sand mining is taking up nearly all of their time, leaving issues of manure runoff and farmland preservation on the back burner.
During a meeting of the Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Board, county regulators from western Wisconsin lamented that frac sand permit applications and inspections have swamped their departments.
Chippewa County land conservationist Dan Masterpole says since 2008, his office has been hammered with permit applications for 10 frac sand mines and at least three processing facilities.He says even with extra temporary help, other responsibilities like grant-writing and helping farmers enroll in land conservation programs have taken a back seat.
Even more serious, Masterpole says the sand mining rush has taken away from efforts to manage farm runoff.
"We curtailed response to public complaints, principally feedlot discharges and manure runoff. We simply have not been able to work on some of the worst barnyards in the county, whereas traditionally we always had one or two of the most serious dischargers putting in best management practices."
In Barron County, 13 frac sand operations have been permitted with other applications pending. Zoning administrator David Gifford says processing permits can take anywhere from three to five months.
"There's less time to work with the farmer that would like to voluntarily do some conservation work such as repair a waterway -- do some of those conservation projects that typically we would have time for."
Both Gifford and Masterpole say compounding the problem are consolidations of departments, and staff retirements with those positions often left unfilled.