A frac sand company has agreed to pay Pepin County, Wis., $480,334 to settle a lawsuit over road damage caused by hauling — a fear shared by many jurisdictions as the silica sand mining industry expanded in recent years in western Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota.
Greg Bechel Trucking & Excavating LLC agreed to the settlement late last month, providing the county with enough money to cover its legal expenses and all necessary road repairs along the company’s designated, 8-mile haul route, said Bill Mavity, an attorney and former county supervisor who advised the Pepin County Highway Committee.
“We’re happy to be done with the litigation,” Mavity said.
Ian Pitz, an attorney for Bechel, said both sides probably accepted less than they wanted to reach the compromise. They disagreed about how much of the road damage was caused by sand trucks, he said.
Although other counties and townships worry about the same problem, Pitz said the case might not have much value as a precedent because it involves a “unique” road-use agreement. The attorney declined to elaborate on what was unique about the deal.
Cities, townships and counties frequently set road-use parameters for frac sand companies to protect against pavement wear and tear. The deals vary widely between jurisdictions, but designated haul routes are common elements in the permitting process.
Pepin County has spent about $1.12 million on upgrades and repairs to damage caused by Bechel’s frac sand hauling operation, according to Bruce Peterson, chairman of county’s highway committee.
According to documents, Bechel had been hauling frac sand to a processing plant in neighboring Pierce County under a highway-use agreement signed with Pepin County in August 2012. Under the agreement, Bechel initially paid $650,000 toward an upgrade to the route before hauling could begin, the documents said. The company also submitted $1 million in cash to a county-managed fund for maintenance.
After road maintenance was performed two years ago, Bechel didn’t replenish the reserve fund with $236,977 that had been spent for repairs. The deficit prompted six months of litigation that ended with last month’s settlement. The county wanted Bechel, based in Plum City, Wis., to restore the reserve fund to $1 million, but the company argued it had no reason to replenish it because it has discontinued its frac sand operation with no intent to reopen.
Under the settlement, Bechel will recover what’s left of the maintenance fund after $480,334 is paid to the county.
Bechel’s quarry is located in rural Frankfort Township, just west of the Chippewa River. If the company ever returns to mining silica sand at the site, the county will require Bechel to re-establish the $1 million road maintenance fund.