Hearing civil on proposed sand mine civil, but opposition to the project is clear
Three staff from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources were at Recreation Park Tuesday to hear public testimony to fill wetlands for a proposed sand mine that borders Monroe and Jackson counties
They heard plenty. Approximately 60 people attended the hearing and there was a steady line of people who provided testimony.
Citizens who voiced their opinion were opposed to Georgia-based Meteor Timber's proposal to fill more than 16 acres of wetlands to build a $65 million frac sand facility in Monroe and Jackson counties. Meteor Timber is one of the largest private landowners in Wisconsin.
Meteor wants to build a processing and loading facility along Interstate 94 near the town of Millston to dry and ship frac sand the company will mine from a nearby site it acquired in a 2014 purchase of nearly 50,000 acres.
The company expects to ship about 1.5 million tons of processed sand each year using the adjacent Union Pacific rail line. Meteor contends it cannot find another location to accommodate such a large plant along the UP rail line. Sand would be mined and washed in Jackson County on Meteor-owned land and trucked 14 miles to a sand drying plant. Meteor would construct a 10-mile railroad spur to a Union Pacific line which serves Texas oil fields.
At the hearing one person after another cited concerns that have been shared by others around Wisconsin as frac sand mines began to dot the countryside. A litany of environmental concerns, lower property taxes, increased truck traffic near sand mines, suspicion of corporate owners, were aired.
David Epstein spoke on behalf of a group of Millston property owners. The proposed wetland is in the direct vicinity of popular Lee Lake, 30 acres of prime recreational land. Epstein said placing a frac sand mine in that region would taint the recreational value of Lee Lake and alter a primary reason many call the area home, its serenity.
Sarah Geers is an attorney with Midwest Environmental Advocates. She said permit approval would damage a rare Wisconsin wetlands. She called Meteor's proposed wetland mitigation plan "deficient." Meteor proposes to restore and preserve more than 640 acres of other land, roughly 40 times the amount of wetlands the project would destroy.
Michael Sylla traveled from the Whitehall area to testify. Another company, Hi-Crush, operates a sand mine near his home. Sylla offered two compelling visuals for DNR staff during his allotted three to five minutes of testimony.
Sylla had two pint jars of murky water from his faucet. Sylla contends the quality of his well water is no longer safe due to the mine operation.
"If you keep allowing sand mines what's going to be left for people?" Sylla asked. "It may create a few jobs right now. But what happens when people decide to move from the area (because of the mine)."
Greg Eirschele lives near the Unimin mine located outside Tunnel City off State Highway 21. Eirschele has witnessed sand mining gradually change the local topography.
"The hills around that mine are disappearing," Eirschele said. "They are being shipped away by the mine. Why would the DNR approve destruction of 16 acres of wetlands when so many mines are operating already?"
Al Bernhardt is another rural Tomah resident with two frac sand mines in his township (Byron). Bernhardt also sits on the town board and knows of local conflict when sand mines are proposed.
"I went from having a quiet country home to now I can't hear the birds," Bernhardt said. "We have trucks going by all the time. I don't hear the trucks anymore. We hear the (sand) plant. When that first truck starts rolling everything changes."
Cecelia Krause, Hixton, feels frac companies should be liable for medical ailments cited by opponents. A percentage of their revenue should be set aside in some sort of trust to offset medical costs for those afflicted with frac sand medical issues like silicosis.
Written comments can be submitted to the DNR until April 28.
About three quarters of the land is owned by the A&K Alexander Cranberry Co. According to documents filed with the application, a cranberry partner needs money to settle a legal issue. If the deal with Meteor is not approved the land would have to be logged to avoid foreclosure.