Wisconsin environmental regulators are considering new conditions for a controversial Monroe County frac sand plant that would require what environmentalists call “massive” wetland destruction.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issued a notice Thursday regarding possible changes to a permit issued in May allowing Meteor Timber to fill 16.25 acres of wetlands for its proposed $65 million processing and loading facility. According to the notice, Meteor has requested the DNR modify the permit to reflect “current construction and design specifications” in satisfaction of conditions attached to the permit.
The agency did not provide an explanation Thursday of the changes being sought or what conditions have been met, but a company spokeswoman said Meteor has provided additional information on hydrology of the area and plans to restore land currently used as cranberry beds.
Meteor project manager Chris Mathis said in a written statement, “We are continuing to work with the DNR to address all conditions of the previously issued wetland permit and enhance the environmental attractiveness of our project.”
“It’s not clear what they’re going to change or how much they’re going to change,” said Evan Feinauer, staff attorney for Clean Wisconsin, which in conjunction with Midwest Environmental Advocates challenged the original permit, saying it would be the single largest destruction of Wisconsin wetlands for an industrial sand project.
The DNR has scheduled a public hearing on the project for Oct. 6 in Tomah.
In June the DNR granted Clean Wisconsin’s request for a contested case hearing on the permit, which Feinauer said will be postponed until the amended permit is issued. Feinauer said he anticipates the environmental advocacy group will roll the amended permit into the challenge.
Clean Wisconsin argues that destroying the “pristine” forested wetlands — home to several rare and endangered species — would open the door to the destruction of more rare wetlands. The DNR acknowledged the permit approval “may lead to increased applications to fill rare, sensitive and valuable wetland plant communities.”
Similar to a court trial, a contested case hearing is typically overseen by an administrative law judge and offers interested parties an opportunity to present evidence and cross-examine witnesses.
Clean Wisconsin, along with the Ho-Chunk Nation, also filed court challenges to the permit, though both cases were dropped because of procedural errors. Midwest Environmental Advocates plans to act as an intervenor in the contested case hearing on behalf of the tribe.
Meteor has proposed to restore and preserve more than 640 acres of other land — including more than 296 acres of existing wetlands — near the the 752-acre site between Warrens and Millston, which would serve two nearby mines on land the company acquired in 2014 when it purchased nearly 50,000 acres of Wisconsin forest.
However, the DNR determined those mitigation efforts “are not likely to fully compensate” for what it calls “permanent and irreversible” secondary impacts from activity on the site and may not compensate for the direct loss of 13.4 acres of “exceptional quality” white pine and red maple swamp, which is considered an imperiled habitat.
Meteor has yet to secure wetland permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is expected to issue a decision later this month.