By Katie Dahlstrom
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey toured Wendling Quarries on Wednesday afternoon, travelling into the quarry to get an up-close look at the DeWitt based operation.
Joining him were Clinton County farmers, Wendling employees, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship staff and local elected officials, Clinton County Supervisor Brian Schmidt and Rep. Steve Olson, R-DeWitt.
John Tuthill, Wendling Quarries property manager, gave Northey and the group a tour of the quarry that led them out of the office and into the areas where materials are extracted.
Northey said he does not have much exposure to mines and quarries, with most of his experience in limestone mines. But the operations are covered under the Department of Agriculture’s Mines and Minerals Bureau.
“It’s important to know what’s going on in their life and know whether we’re responding the right way. It’s also a big business in Iowa. The mining business is a big business,” Northey said.
The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship monitors more than 1,100 registered mineral sites in Iowa that are used by 250 operators in more than 25 counties. These sites produce limestone, sand and gravel, gypsum and clay. The limestone industry produces more than 25 million tons of stone each year for use in the construction industry, according to the Department of Agriculture.
Wendling produces crushed stone, sand, gravel, recycled concrete and asphalt products, as well as hot mix asphalt and ready mix concrete for state and local government agencies, contractors, farmers, businesses, and individuals in the Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois area.
“It’s kind of forgotten by folks. They’ll see road work getting done, but they don’t think about where that rock came from. They don’t think of where that old road is going and all the sophistication in knowing what materials to use,” Northey said.
“They certainly have a lot of land as well, by its nature,” he added.
Wendling Quarries owns more than 250 acres of land in DeWitt, some of it an open-pit mine and other remains farmland.
The Mines and Minerals Bureau licenses each mine operator and bonds and registers every mining site. An inspector monitors the site for compliance and assures that the bond posted would cover site reclamation should the operation default.
Before embarking on the tour, Northey talked with the group about items affecting their lives such as DNR and EPA regulations, the extension of limited liability protection to farmers that offer education tours on their farms and regulations for nitrate runoff from farm fields.
Northey said it’s difficult to manage nonpoint source pollution such as runoff.
“We need to let farmers figure this out,” he said. “This isn’t all going to be fixed in a year or two. It’s not all going to be fixed in five or 10. A lot of the nitrogen that shows up in our rivers is just the great organic matter of soils that we have out there. When the water moves through it, it picks up nitrogen whether it’s fertilizer or organic matter.”
He pointed to potential lawsuits from environmental groups and other unknown factors that could push the EPA to impose nutrient standards.