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Meteor Timber wetlands fill and frac sand facility

— Meteor Timber, LLC seeks approval from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to destroy an unprecedented amount—16.25 acres—of pristine forested wetlands for a proposed industrial sand facility.

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In September 2017, Meteor Timber and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources continued revising the permit based on Meteor Timber's construction and wetland mitigation plans. The DNR held a hearing on the modified permit and then issued the permit on October 27th. The DNR granted Clean Wisconsin’s request for a contested case hearing on the modified permit. The Department also continued a stay to stop the project pending the outcome of this challenge to Meteor’s state wetland fill permit for the proposed sand processing facility and rail project. To consolidate legal action, MEA is considering intervening in the contested case hearing requested by Clean Wisconsin on behalf of Ho-Chunk Nation.

Case Summary

Meteor Timber, LLC seeks approval from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to destroy an unprecedented amount—16.25 acres—of pristine, forested wetlands in order to build a new industrial sand facility. Meteor Timber asserts that it must fill these wetlands to construct a load out facility in Monroe County in the Town of Gant, which will supply sand to a planned processing facility in Jackson County. The project, if approved, would destroy high quality wetlands that provide critical ecosystem services to the county as well as a rare habitat for a number of threatened and endangered species, including the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake.

The scope of Meteor Timber’s plan is massive in comparison to the state’s recent history in issuing wetlands fill permits for the frac sand industry. Since 2008, the DNR has permitted 26 acres of wetland fill for 60 industrial sand facilities. Wetland destruction for Meteor Timber alone would represent more than 60% of the total wetland acres filled for sand facilities.

During the boom of industrial sand mining in Wisconsin, residents have witnessed landscape-scale destruction in the Driftless region. But consistent with the boom-and-bust nature of mining, there are about 32 inactive industrial sand facilities around the state. Meteor Timber asserts that it would be too cost prohibitive to use an existing facility. The company defends the environmental damage associated with its project by promising to put parcels of land into a conservation easement.

Midwest Environmental Advocates believes that it isn’t in the public’s interest to destroy pristine wetlands and their essential ecosystem functions in order to make industrial sand mining more profitable. The environmental costs associated with this proposal are simply too great and are not outweighed by Meteor Timber’s attempt to sweeten the deal with wetland restoration and preservation.

In January, representatives of Meteor Timber said the company will clear-cut parcels of land if it does not get permission to fill wetlands for the facility. Midwest Environmental Advocates joined the Ho-Chunk Nation in asking the Army Corps of Engineers to deny permission for the plan to fill wetlands. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign also raised their concerns about complex conflicts of interests for a law firm that serves as Meteor Timber’s attorneys and Jackson County’s corporation counsel.

In early march, the DNR granted preliminary approval before a public comment period. On March 6, we told WIZM radio that the public needs more details about Meteor Timber’s plan in order to question and comment on the permit proposal.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources held a hearing on Meteor Timber’s request for a wetland fill permit on April 18 in Tomah, WI. Sarah Geers, MEA staff attorney, attended and spoke during public comments. The hearing was covered by the La Crosse Tribune and WXOW-TV ABC-19.

Midwest Environmental Advocates shared our written comments on April 28 (View our comments online as well as attachments on "The Economics of Frac Sand Mining" by the UW-Extension, a 2013 study on "The Economic Benefits and Costs of Frac-Sand Mining in West Central Wisconsin" by Thomas Michael Power, Ph.D. and Donovan S. Power, MS prepared for Wisconsin Farmers Union, Wisconsin Towns Association and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, an April 19, 2017 article in the La Crosse Tribune on "Analyzing the economic benefits of sand mines versus the social costs," and Christopher H. Danou's UW-Stevens Point Masters Thesis on the "Habitat Use and Movement Patterns fo the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake in Wisconsin."

On Monday, June 19, 2017 Midwest Environmental Advocates – on behalf of the Ho-Chunk Nation – filed a petition to challenge the wetland fill permit issued to Meteor Timber LLC for an industrial sand processing facility and rail project. Clean Wisconsin also challenged the permit and requested administrative review by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The petitions ask to put the wetland fill on hold until the parties can get review of the agency’s decision. View Clean Wisconsin's petition for a contested case hearing.

Access Meteor Timber’s application and correspondence with the DNR online (Application No. WP-IP-WC-2016-42-01514-01524).