The Winona County Board of Commissioners continued discussing plans Tuesday to defray costs of road damage that could be caused by trucks hauling frac sand on county roads.
Commissioners agreed that relying on the state’s aggregate tax isn’t viable — county projections show it would not generate enough money to cover the significant repairs expected. Commissioners instead began to look at a road use agreement, which would require mining companies to pay to upgrade the roads their trucks use.
County highway engineer Dave Kramer presented ways several Wisconsin counties have handled similar costs. Chippewa County, for example, has separate road-use agreements with three mining companies that require the operators to pay before using roads. That allows the county to upgrade roads to a level where they can handle increased traffic and loads.
“The pavement can be properly designed to handle that truck traffic for the life of the mine,” said Kramer. “It’s very specific to the mine; it’s not a broad brush approach.”
Kramer said the agreements vary based on the scale of the mining operation, the type and length of road, and other factors. In Chippewa County, some companies paid about $300,000, while others paid nearly $3 million. Kramer said other Wisconsin counties, including Buffalo and Trempealeau, have modeled agreements on Chippewa’s model.
Kramer said it would likely take the county several months to determine what upgrades specific roads would require. The county has done some general research on the amount of damage area roads could take from increased truck traffic — a recent report, using estimated truck traffic from three proposed mines in Saratoga Township, concluded that fully loaded trucks could degrade county roads by a factor of 10. That means a road built to last 20 years would require maintenance in two.
The board approved a three-month moratorium on frac sand mining in early January, delaying plans for at least eight proposed mines. The moratorium gives county staff about two more months to continue investigating road damage, reclamation efforts and environmental impacts of the booming industry.
“I think we have to go into this with our eyes wide open and make the right decision for the community,” said Jason Gilman, the county’s community and environmental services director.