Tag Archives: sand

Timber company’s sand plants would destroy Wisconsin wetlands

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 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 and 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.



Wisconsin DNR releases draft sand mining strategic analysis

Midwest Environmental Advocates began a review of a draft Industrial Sand Mining Strategic Analysis released by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources this week.

The DNR’s draft Strategic Analysis is the first glimpse into a long-awaited, comprehensive look into the impacts of frac sand mining on the health, environment, economies and way of life of many Wisconsin communities.

Upon initial review, however, the draft Industrial Sand Mining Strategic Analysis will need a deeper analysis, more data and more input from experts and the public in order to be a meaningful resource for local and state policy makers and agency staff for decision making.

The air quality section has the same fundamental flaw as the agency’s recent actions regarding fine particulate matter, or PM2.5. While the DNR asserts that mechanical processes, such as those at industrial sand mines, do not produce or emit PM2.5 (only larger particles), the agency does not have evidence to support this conclusion.

The Strategic Analysis also relies on studies based on voluntary monitoring and industry-funded studies at industrial sand facilities. The report also only makes passing reference to independent research such as that of UW Eau Claire’s Dr. Crispin Pierce’s PM2.5 study that shows that industrial sand facilities may be causing or contributing to unsafe levels of fine particulate matter around mining facilities. This reliance on industry-funded research shares the same limitations as the Health Impact Assessment of Industrial Sand Mining in Western Wisconsin published by the Institute for Wisconsin’s Health, Inc. earlier this year.

However, the Strategic Analysis does acknowledge the threat of acid mine drainage from industrial sand facilities and supports further study of the potential for frac sand mining to allow metals to leave bedrock and enter surface and groundwater. DNR has known for some time that some wastewater holding ponds at industrial sand mines have had high levels of metals, which present a risk to groundwater quality and the health of rural residents who rely on private wells for drinking water.

But in the meantime, DNR should require monitoring at industrial sand facilities to ensure that these discharges are not going unnoticed. DNR recently revised its industrial sand stormwater and wastewater general permit and should have, but did not, account for uncertainty about the potential for metals in these discharges.

Public comment welcomed

The DNR is accepting public comment between now and Aug. 22. The DNR will host a public informational meeting July 26 at 4:00 p.m. at the Chippewa Valley Technical College, Business Education Center, Casper Conference Center , Room 103A/B, at 620 W. Clairemont Avenue, Eau Claire.

Robust public comment will improve the final Strategic Analysis, if the DNR will hear the public’s concerns, accept more air quality studies, and address the legal and environmental concerns with fine particulate matter associated with frac sand mining.

The True Cost of Sand Petition

On October 29, 2014, petitioner Ken Schmitt presented the True Cost of Sand Petition to the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board and shared his experience as a grass-fed beef farmer in western Chippewa County whose community is increasingly dealing with the negative impacts of frac sand mining. The True Cost of Sand petition was a summary of concerns local citizens have voiced over the last few years.

These concerns about hazardous dust, polluted runoff into streams, truck and train traffic, shrinking natural habitats, and negative impacts on the quality of life in Wisconsin’s Driftless Area have been the root of many of the calls to Midwest Environmental Advocates’ law center’s legal helpline since the initial boom of frac sand mining in our state. Many people who signed the petition expressed shock that the DNR had never done any meaningful, big-picture study of the frac sand industry’s impacts on our water, air and land.

The petition, signed by over 1,100 Wisconsin residents asked for a simple request: The state Natural Resources Board should direct the Department of Natural Resources to conduct a strategic analysis of the impacts of frac sand mining and processing. Then NRB Chairman Preston Cole directed the DNR to review the petition and submit their recommendations for action, and the DNR issued an outline of what the analysis would include in March of 2015.

An unbiased, comprehensive look at the impacts of frac sand mining on the health, environment, economies and way of life of Wisconsin communities can be an invaluable resource for local and state policy makers and agency staff to use for making decisions on zoning, laws and rules, public health policy and land reclamation planning.

For more on the True Cost of Sand Petition and the DNR’s Industrial Sand Mining Strategic Analysis, visit midwestadvocates.org/truecostofsand.

Midwest Environmental Advocates is a public interest organization that uses the power of the law to support communities fighting for environmental accountability. Learn more about the Midwest Environmental Advocates on the web atmidwestadvocates.org, like MEA on Facebook or follow @MidwestAdvocate on Twitter.

Wisconsin environmental group urges state to reject Smart Sand application

Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters is calling on the state to reject an application from an out-of-state frac sand mining company that is seeking status as a green company.

The environmental group is calling on Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp, who was appointed by Gov. Scott Walker, to reject the application for “Green Tier” status from Smart Sand, Inc. The Green Tier program was created in 2004 to reward companies for superior environmental performance. To qualify, companies must have a demonstrated commitment to protecting the environment.

The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters says Smart Sand doesn’t come close to qualifying.

“Not only does Smart Sand not meet the Green Tier criteria, they are guilty of violating air pollution standards already. Awarding them with this special recognition would be nothing less than greenwashing. And that’s not going to sit well with Wisconsin citizens, past Green Tier recipients, or us,” said Anne Sayers, program director for Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters.

Nearly 2,000 citizens registered their opposition to the prospect of awarding Green Tier status to the frac sand mining company. The DNR claims it received more comments on this particular Green Tier application than any in the program’s 10-year history. Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters supporters alone generated 1,932 comments. 

Smart Sand, according to environmentalists, has a processing capacity of over a million tons of sand per year on its more than 1,000 acres in Oakdale. In the two years the company has operated in Wisconsin, it has received a notice of violation for failure to comply with state air pollution standards.

“The decision of whether to undermine the integrity of the Green Tier program or not rests in the hands of Gov. Walker appointee, Secretary Stepp. We join thousands of others in asking Secretary Stepp to stop delaying and reject the Smart Sand Green Tier application,” said Sayers.

Dr. Beach: Duke Kahanamoku in Waikiki tops 2014 beach ranking

A tourist-friendly beach named for a Hawaii surfing legend has been dubbed the best public beach in the United States in this year’s Dr. Beach ranking.

Duke Kahanamoku Beach, a well-groomed crescent of blond sand and palm trees near the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, beat out more than 600 other beaches for the distinction.

Stephen Leatherman, a Florida International University coastal science professor who goes by the nickname Dr. Beach, said the cleanliness, safe conditions and amenities pushed Duke Kahanamoku to the top of his 24th annual list.

“It’s safe for kids and families,” he said by phone. “The water quality’s great. The vistas are right off the scale for that place.”

Also big for him: Smoking there is banned, as it is on beaches throughout Oahu.

“I hope Hawaii sets the standard and the wave moves eastward to the mainland,” he said. “South Beach is a hot beach in Miami but sometimes there I count 10 cigarette butts in a square meter.”

On Wednesday at Duke Kahanamoku Beach, visitors lolled under umbrellas and thumbed paperbacks. Toddlers in frumpy hats undertook tiny civil engineering projects. A half-dozen surfing students in garish green rash guards paddled through the placid shallow water, past the seawall and out toward popular surf breaks.

Locals who know Hawaii may quibble about what deserves the best beach title. “There’s probably better beaches on the outer islands,” said Kainoa Haas, 22, a Honolulu surfer.

But Rhode Island tourists Robert Ferland and Stephanie DeQuattro, at Duke Kahanamoku for a ninth straight day, were impressed.

“It’s pretty,” said Ferland, 32. “We have nice beaches at home…”

“But it’s nothing like here,” DeQuattro, 30, finished for him.

Hawaii’s Waimanalo Bay Beach Park on Oahu, and Hamoa Beach on Maui, were also among the top 10 beaches Leatherman named this year.

The others were Florida’s Barefoot Beach, St. George Island State Park, Key Biscayne and Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park; North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras; Massachusetts’ Cape Cod; and South Carolina’s Kiawah Island.

Duke Kahanamoku Beach is the 13th Hawaii beach to win the distinction as America’s best — the fourth on Oahu, following Hanauma Bay, Kailua Beach Park and Lanikai Beach. Once a beach wins, Leatherman retires it from consideration for future lists.

Outside Hawaii, Florida boasts the most past winners in the Dr. Beach rankings, with seven. New York beaches have won twice, while California and North Carolina have produced one top beach apiece.

This already has been a big spring for Duke Kahanamoku Beach. In the new blockbuster movie “Godzilla,” it’s where the monster clambers out of the Pacific and into Waikiki, flooding the streets and demolishing hotels.

Leatherman, who did his Ph.D. on beach erosion, said such a kaiju attack would hurt the beach in his rankings if the debris wasn’t cleaned up. “The tsunami itself would go over top of the whole thing,” he said, “and the beach would still be there.”