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Citizen Voices Matter: In Western Wisconsin

About Donna Brogan

Donna and her husband, Bert, invested in farmland in Arcadia, Wisconsin in 1995 and moved from St. Paul, Minnesota to live in Wisconsin full time in 2003. Since then they built a home that has been recognized for its unique architecture and have been working on prairie restoration of the land. Donna designs and creates handcrafted furniture and Bert is a family physician. 

Why Donna is working to improve regulation of frac sand mining in Wisconsin

“We loved it here,” says Donna when asked why she moved from the urban Twin Cities to the rolling hills of Wisconsin’s driftless region. “Since the boom of frac sand mining in this area, I decided to get active. The issue has totally fractured our community, but in the process I’ve met so many neighbors who are good people who want to preserve the land. Now my appreciation for this place is not just for the landscape, but for the people too.”

When Donna talks about how frac sand mining has impacted her community, she tells a story of division, citizens' voices being ignored by local elected officials, and destabilized land values in a mostly agricultural area that in the last couple of years has increasingly been dotted with industrial mine sites.

"It has pitted neighbor against neighbor. People who have lived next to each other for decades stop talking to each other," she says. "Families split when some family members want to sell co-owned land to a mining company, but the one family member who is still farming the land wants to keep the land and his livelihood. Sometimes people feel isolated in this chaos and they don't know how to fight and they feel abandoned, but there is a camaraderie that develops among those of us who are trying to protect our way of life."

For Donna and her neighbors, getting involved with local government meant “learning as you go.” Her biggest lesson was that township officials always put the property rights of landowners willing to mine the land over the property rights of those who want to keep their land for residential or agricultural use.

“They could have done this differently,” she said. “They could have had a plan and kept mining to a set district. Property owners could make informed decisions on whether or not they want to sell or stay. But instead we’ve seen an absolute panic among neighbors. They have let this boom mentality just take hold and it isn’t good for the long term future of a place.”

After citizens like Donna repeatedly asked for a moratorium on frac sand mine permit approvals, they finally had a victory on August 19 when their county board voted to stop approving permits for one year so that the impact of the extractive industry could be studied and understood.

“I’ve seen too many people go in front of local boards and break down crying,” said Donna. “People feel like they are losing their way of life and they’ve been so isolated while dealing with big issues of their land and their homes. But you have to talk to your neighbors. We need to support each other.”

How you can help

Please share Donna’s story. You can learn more about frac sand mining on our website. If you donate to Midwest Environmental Advocate’s legal effort, you will be supporting the work of our attorneys who are helping citizens with impact litigation cases against mining companies that aren’t protecting our air, water and land. We provide technical and legal support that informs permit reviews and future litigation.