Glenwood City incumbents lead in recall elections sparked by frac sand

Alison Dirr/WCIJ

Glenwood City, a 1,200-person community in northwest Wisconsin, has become the site of a controversy over a proposed frac sand mine.

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The mayor garnered a 43-vote margin Tuesday, while two city council members held onto razor-thin leads in Glenwood City recall elections sparked by controversy over a proposed frac sand mine.

Glenwood City Mayor John Larson and city council members Nancy Hover and Dave Graese each faced one challenger in the recall elections, believed to be the first in Wisconsin to be prompted by frac sand mining.

Unofficial returns from the Glenwood City Clerk’s Office late Tuesday night showed that in the mayoral recall election, Larson received 183 votes and challenger Ken Peterson received 140 votes.

City council member Hover received 163 votes, compared to 160 for challenger Barb Standaert.

And in the other city council race, incumbent Graese received 162 votes compared to 160 for challenger Chris Schone.

“I know it isn’t a huge margin, but a win is a win,” Hover said after the unofficial results came in.

She added she did not know what this meant for the mine.

“It doesn’t mean it’s going to happen,” she said. “It just means it’s something we’re thinking about.”

Schone, who ran in the other city council race, said he was waiting for official results.

Frac sand is used to extract oil and natural gas in a process called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Wisconsin is the nation’s leader in frac sand production; the actual fracking is done in other states.

The controversy over the proposed mine, which led to the recall, pitted residents concerned about health and quality of life against others who say the mine could be run safely, bringing jobs and a better economic future to the community. The mine would be located a half mile south of the community’s sole school building.

“The recall election is a referendum,” Larson said before the election. “It’s a one-issue election, and so I guess we’ll see what the people say.”

Recall organizers obtained more than 100 valid signatures for each of three petitions, exceeding the standards set in Wisconsin law — at least a quarter of those who voted in that jurisdiction in the most recent gubernatorial election.

Peterson, a Glenwood City resident who ran against Larson, said in an email prior to the election that the incumbents and their challengers care about the city but have different visions for it.

“The voters of Glenwood City will decide what is best for the city and hopefully it is the right choice for the surrounding residents as well,” he wrote.

Before the recall, some residents criticized what they characterized as a lack of transparency, saying city officials negotiated privately with Vista Sand, the company that hopes to run the mine. Residents also demanded a referendum on whether land needed for the mine should be annexed into Glenwood City.

Schone, who ran against Graese, said concerns over the proposed mine and the council’s handling of other issues prompted him to run. He said he felt that voices of constituents and others who would be affected by the mine were not heard.

“Constituents of the city and people affected have a right to have a voice, and those voices should have been represented,” he said Tuesday while voting was under way.

Standaert, a teacher at the school, ran against Hover. She said in an email that the mine’s location was her primary concern.

“I would always choose in (students’) best interest,” Standaert wrote. “In my opinion, that would not be to allow a nearly 400-acre silica sand mine to be operating within such close proximity.”

Hover, a veteran council member, said the mine could be good for the city’s economy: “This is a revenue stream that is knocking at our door.”

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