MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin environmental regulators improperly gave a Georgia company permission last year to destroy wetlands to make way for a sand processing plant, a judge ruled Friday.
Atlanta-based Meteor Timber wants to build a $70 million plant to process industrial sand near Interstate 94 in Monroe County. The plans call for destroying 16 acres of wetlands that include a 13-acre swamp of rare white pine and red maples. To make up for filling those wetlands, the company pledged to restore more than 630 acres of other land, including wetlands, near the site.
The Department of Natural Resources awarded the company permits for the project last year, triggering a challenge from environmental group Clean Wisconsin and the Ho-Chunk Nation.
Administrative Law Judge Eric Defort invalidated the permits Friday. Defort wrote that the DNR lacked enough information to determine the net positive or negative environmental impact.
The agency was missing a detailed description of the total number of acres that would be converted to industrial use, information on chemicals that would be introduced in the environment, an invasive species control plan, a detailed vegetation survey and an adequate mitigation plan to make up for the swamp's destruction, Defort noted.
"Without an 'adequate' mitigation plan in combination with the permanent and irreversible destruction of the rare and exceptionally high-quality wetlands in this case, the proposed project will most certainly result in significant adverse impacts to wetland functional values because it will not compensate for the loss," the judge wrote.
DNR spokesman Jim Dick said agency officials were reviewing the decision to determine their next steps. Chris Mathias, Meteor Timber's project manager, released a statement through the company's attorneys saying company officials disagree with the judge and believe the project's economic and environmental benefits "merit further discussion and thought."
Asked if the company would appeal, Meteor Timber attorney John Behling said only that the company was "evaluating its options to continue moving the project forward."
Clean Wisconsin and Midwest Environmental Advocates, which is representing the Ho-Chunk, issued a joint statement calling the ruling a significant victory for the people of Wisconsin and the state's pristine wetlands.
Republicans who control the state Assembly passed a bill in February that would have allowed Meteor Timber to fill the swamp while Defort was considering the case. The measure died in the Senate.