At the LaCrosse Tribune, Steve Rundio takes an in-depth look at Wendy Johnson and Jim Tittle's post-boom documentary about frac sand mining in Southwest Wisconsin in Sand documentary features stories from Hixton, Tomah:
Dwight and Ruth Swenson witnessed a bluff disappear next to their property near Hixton in Jackson County.
“It feels like an earthquake when they’re blasting,” Dwight Swenson said. “The house shutters. The windows shutter. Our neighbors have been rolled out of bed.”
Jim Tittle captured the Swensons’ experience on the film. The Swensons were among people he interviewed for the production of Promise in the Sand, a documentary he released June 4 with co-producer Wendy Johnson.
“I made the sequel because people asked, ‘What happened since then?’” Tittle said.
Starting in Chetek, the film takes viewers to Tomah, Hixton, New Auburn, Bagley and Clayton County, Iowa. Tittle and Johnson used aerials, time lapse and a first-hand view of explosions demolishing a bluff to give viewers a look at frac sand mining as it happens.
In Hixton, Tittle captured images of the Swensons tending to their garden against the backdrop of big piles of sand and large-scale explosions. He also conveyed the strong feelings of two people who believe their quiet rural lifestyle has been shattered by an industrial operation next door.
“This is our home,” said Ruth Swenson. “We’ve raised our family here ... this is where I belong. This not where an industrial sand mine belongs.”
In New Auburn, Tittle filmed a county road where six sand trucks passed a residential home within a 30-second period during a September afternoon. Southeast of New Auburn, a woman spoke of the impact of silica dust. She described coughing cows and overnight guests who developed nose bleeds. ...
Watch the short documentary on Amazon Prime here.
The documentary brings a couple of stories into a human perspective. Last month, the Winona County ban on frac sand mining challenged at Court of Appeals, the Star Tribune's Matt McKinney reported. The court has 90 days to issue its ruling.
More recently, Wisconsin Public Radio reported in Tests Show Toxic Heavy Metals Near Wisconsin Sand Mine Spill:
Water that spilled from a frac sand mine last month contained high concentrations of heavy metals including arsenic, copper and lead. But experts say early test results indicate that much of the heavy metals settled out of the water soon after it entered a nearby creek and the Trempealeau River.
Hi-Crush drained 10 million gallons of water used to wash frac sand from a holding pond May 21 in order to rescue a worker who had been submerged in a bulldozer for two and a half hours. The water rushed down a valley, flooded farm fields and covered a driveway before it entered an unnamed creek on Poker Coulee Road in the Town of Lincoln, eventually emptying into the Trempealeau River.
The company and the state Department of Natural Resources took samples of the water hours after the incident with initial results released by the agency Wednesday evening. The DNR found arsenic concentrations at 67 parts per billion, copper levels of 2,340 parts per billion and lead concentrations of 1,440 parts per billion where the sediment-filled water from the mine entered the creek. Water samples collected up stream on the creek and Trempealeau River — in contrast — showed concentrations of those metals in the single digits.
Water samples taken by the DNR 50 yards downstream of where the creek on Poke Coulee Road meets the Trempealeau River showed much lower concentrations of metals than what was found in the water leaking from the mine.
The DNR would not agree to an on-the-record interview for this story. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee associate dean at the School of Freshwater Sciences Tim Grundl said that concentrations of the metals quickly dropped once entering the larger waterways is not surprising. . . .
Read the entire article at WPR, then watch the film.
Photo: A still from Promise in the Sand.
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