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Fairmount Minerals frac sand mining air pollution permit challenge

— Residents of Arcadia, WI are challenging FML Sand, LLC's frac sand company’s air pollution permit in order to protect air quality and their community’s health from silica dust.

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On July 24, 2013, ten citizens who live near or adjacent to the FTS International frac sand mine in Arcadia, WI petitioned the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for a hearing before the State Division of Hearings and Appeals to review the permit the DNR issued to FTS International, LLC which could allow the company’s frac sand mine to discharge particulates and nitrogen dioxide in amounts that violate federal and state air pollution standards. Ultimately, the DHA would have the power to modify the permit or send it back to the DNR to require the agency to issue a permit that protects public health.

In September, 2013, FML Sand, LLC became the successor in interest for FTS International Services, LLC. Though ownership of the proposed mining operation's permits have changed, the citizen challenge to the existing air pollution permit will continue and a contested case hearing has been scheduled for April 8-10 in Madison with an opportunity for sworn public comments at the Trempealeau County courthouse on April 11.

Contested Case Hearing - April 8-10 in Madison, April 11, Whitehall

Madison hearing

The first portion of the contested case hearing will begin at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, April 8 and continue through Thursday April 10. It will take place at the Division of Hearings and Appeals, 5005 University Ave. Ste. 201 in Madison, WI. The DHA website has directions to the building. The judge is in charge of setting the schedules for each day and will set breaks for lunch and the end of the day based on the time needed to allow witnesses to speak.

Public testimony at Trempealeau County Courthouse

Beginning at noon on Friday, April 11, Judge Boldt will take sworn, public comments on the contested FML air pollution permit. The courthouse is located at 36245 Main St. in Whitehall, WI. Parking is available on the street and in the back of the building. Use the stairs or elevator to go to the lower level and find signs for the Tremplo Room in the back hallway. The Tremplo Room has free wifi, but cell phone reception will be little to none.

Those wishing to testify are strongly encouraged to arrive at the courthouse at noon. Though the Tremplo room has been reserved after business hours, access to the building after 5:00 p.m. requires entrance through the Rear Entrance #2 door in the back of the building and the police department will buzz people in. Judge Boldt strongly urges the public to arrive before the end of the business day to reduce the logistical burden on the police department.

 

See the Resources Related to this Action section below for more documents.

Case Summary

In the Town of Arcadia, Wisconsin, there are eight mines in a five-mile radius. There are 26 permitted or proposed frac sand mines in Trempealeau County. The volume of existing and potential mining activity in Trempealeau County causes area residents to have deep econcerns about air quality and their health in addition to water depletion and pollution, destabilized land values and quality of life issues.

Last year, the Department of Natural Resources approved an air pollution permit for FTS International Proppants, a frac sand mining company from Texas, to build a silica sand mining and processing facility in a mostly agricultural and residential area of Arcadia. But before the permit was approved, a draft of the company's air pollution control permit application was publically released by the DNR in February 2013, and Midwest Environmental Advocates worked with an air engineer with experience in reviewing pollution permits to comment on the draft.

The engineer found inaccuracies or errors in the drafted permit that, if approved, could allow the company to discharge particulates and nitrogen dioxide in amounts that violate federal and state air pollution standards. The engineer’s comments included critiques that

  • the processing facility didn’t have the technology to effectively limit emissions,
  • there weren’t enough requirments for compliance testing and ambient air monitoring,
  • and that the permit didn’t have enough information to ensure that fugitive dust would be controlled.
  • Additionally, the DNR didn’t require an environmental assessment to consider the overall impact of existing and proposed mining activity in the area.

The modeling procedures used by the DNR to simulate and predict a facility’s air quality impact is a key part of an air pollution control permit. The DNR uses modeling technology to determine what emission limitations must be included in the permit to meet state and federal standards and to protect public health and the environment. But in issuing the FTS permit, the DNR altogether failed to model the facility’s nitrogen dioxide emissions. It also failed to account for the facility’s fugitive dust - a significant source of silica emissions at the site. Had the DNR correctly modeled FTS’s emissions, it would have shown that the emission limits included in the permit are not stringent enough to ensure that the facility will comply with state and federal standards.

Concerned citizens who live near or adjacent to the mine site wrote letters of opposition to the DNR or expressed concerns about the health of their family members and livestock at a public hearing on the draft permit. But the DNR ignored their concerns and on June 24, 2013 approved an air pollution control permit that had no meaningful changes to better protect air quality.

In September, 2013, FML Sand, LLC became the successor in interest for FTS International Services, LLC. Though ownership of the proposed mining operation has changed, the citizen challenge to the existing air pollution permit will continue and a contested case hearing has been scheduled for April 8-10 in Madison. There will be an opportunity for sworn public comments at the Trempealeau County courthouse on April 11.

Stronger air pollution permits are needed for frac sand mining Wisconsin because they establish the standards under which mining companies operate. Permits also lay out what powers the DNR has to enforce air protections in the future. Simply, strong air pollution permits are a critical part of protecting public health. Midwest Environmental Advocates is supporting citizens in Trempealeau County who want the frac sand industry to follow the laws that protect our health and the health of our environment.

Related Media Coverage

Frac Sand Health Fears Rise as Mining Booms in Wisconsin: Residents push for answers that are not coming from state officials – Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, Alison Dirr, 10/6/2013