MADISON, Wis. — A timber company subsidiary is looking to build a pair of sand processing facilities in western Wisconsin that would eliminate more than 16 acres of wetlands.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports (http://bit.ly/2iAhvVe ) Meteor Timber wants to build sand drying plant along Interstate 94 in Monroe County and a sand mine 14 miles away in neighboring Jackson County. Together the facilities would be valued at $65 million an create nearly 100 jobs, the newspaper reported.
Sand would be trucked from the mine to the drying plant. Meteor would build a 10-mile railroad spur to a Union Pacific line to transport the sand to Texas oil fields, where it would be used for hydraulic fracking.
The project would eliminate 16.6 acres of wetlands, including more than 13 acres of hardwood swamp. Jeffrey M. Olson, a section chief for the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, called some of that land pristine, saying it's never been touched.
The state Department of Natural Resources has issued 60 wetland permits to sand operators since 2008, allowing the destruction of 26 acres. Meteor's wetland use would amount to 60 percent of that total.
Meteor needs approval from both the DNR and the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed. Both entities require that disturbing wetlands be avoided whenever possible but Meteor is trying to persuade the DNR and the corps that no alternative sites are suitable.
Midwest Environmental Advocates, an environmental law firm, is representing the Ho-Chunk Nation, which has tribal trust lands in the area. The firm is urging the corps and the DNR to deny permits for the project. Sarah Greers, an attorney for the firm, questioned why other sites can't be found and why the company wants to build the facilities since the sand mining industry has slowed.
Christopher Mathis, managing director of real estate for Meteor, said in a statement to the Journal Sentinel that the company is sensitive to wetland impacts but can't find any other commercially viable sites.
Meteor would preserve 358 acres on the property, shut down a cranberry marsh and remove dams from the marsh to naturalize a creek on the property, the Journal Sentinel reported. The company also would pay to restore wetlands in the same watershed.
Meteor, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Timberland Investment Resources, has nearly 50,000 acres in forest holdings in Wisconsin.