Midwest Environmental Advocates is a nonprofit environmental law center that works for healthy water, air, land and government for this generation and the next. We believe that every citizen has the potential to make a difference.

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Citizen Voices Matter: In Western Wisconsin

About Paul Winey and family

Paul Winey lives with his wife and four children in the Town of Arcadia in Trempealeau County, Wisconsin. Paul is a Certified Physician Assistant practicing family medicine at a small, rural family practice clinic in Arcadia and Nancy is a Registered Nurse in rural practice, but is also a full-time mom raising and homeschooling their four children ages 7 through several weeks old.

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

Paul and Nancy Winey found their home as an answer to a prayer. The couple met through their medical practices and wanted a peaceful, rural home in Arcadia where Nancy grew up. A home that was big enough for a growing family, far enough out in the country to enjoy rolling hills and establish a traditional prairie, but that was located close enough to work felt like a tall order. But Paul and Nancy kept looking and kept praying, specifically, to find the perfect place. Finally they learned through a friend that a neighbor’s recently built house on a hill overlooking a valley of farmland was for sale. It was home.

A decade later, the Winey family heard about a proposed frac sand mine at the end of a seldom-used gravel lane by their house. That sparked a lot of questions. How will a frac sand mine change things? Will there be noise? Dust? Hundreds of trucks passing in front of our home? Paul and Nancy spent the next month researching everything about the mining industry, local ordinances, and their rights.

They needed help but couldn’t find an attorney to help: all of the lawyers had conflicts of interest through either representing mining companies or the local municipalities. The town was prepared to declare as theirs part of the Winey’s property. The family had to spend $3000 to prove the boundaries of their property and that the town didn’t have the right to let a mining company reconstruct the lane. They were told by neighbors and local politicians to sell their home and land before its value plummeted. The Winey’s got very little sleep that month.

Like many citizens facing the encroachment of frac sand mining, Paul had to quickly become an expert. He even was invited to serve on a local advisory committee with other citizens and industry representatives. Though he could speak at length about his concerns, as a medical professional, that silica dust could compromise the health and air quality of those who live downwind of frac sand mines, he felt that local officials didn’t listen to him. He knew from attending hearings about the increasing number of proposed mines in his area, that local elected officials regularly dismissed citizens’ concerns about the health of their families, their environment, and the value of their homes and family farms. With mining companies pushing for quick permit approvals or rezoning and annexation schemes, Paul and his neighbors put in a full-time effort simply to keep up with the boom.

Though the first proposed mine at the end of their gravel lane has not been established, another mine did break ground in the valley in front of the Winey’s house. The valley amplified the noise of the mine: the backup alarms of trucks, the boom and woosh of loading rocks and sand, and bright and flashing lights at night. The noise of the mine became their alarm clock at 6 o’clock in the morning. The noise kept their daughter Zoa from napping in the afternoon.

Trempealeau County, Wisconsin is where about twenty percent of the frac sand mines have been permitted in the state. Paul and Nancy are among a courageous handful of citizens who are petitioners in a lawsuit challenging the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' decision to approve an air pollution permit for another proposed area frac sand mining operation by FML, LLC.

How you can help

Please share Paul’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.