State environmental regulators are seeking public input on plans to amend a permit for a controversial Monroe County frac sand plant.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will hold a public hearing Friday in Tomah on 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, which environmentalists call “massive” wetland destruction.

According to the official notice, Meteor has requested the DNR modify the permit to reflect “current construction and design specifications” in satisfaction of conditions attached to the permit.

DNR spokesman Jim Dick said there is no change or addition to the permit, but the agency is considering Meteor’s proposed plans to satisfy some 59 conditions attached to the original permit.

“The public will have a chance to comment on whether or not the department should accept the condition responses and therefore grant the request to modify the permit stating conditions were met,” Dick said in an email.

Evan Feinauer is a staff attorney for Clean Wisconsin, which has challenged the original permit, and said he doesn’t yet know what the modified permit will look like.

“We’re concerned that the public won’t have a real opportunity to understand what it is the DNR is doing in this modification process and therefore won’t have a real opportunity to participate,” Feinauer said. “It’s really important to do all your homework before the test.”

The DNR has granted Clean Wisconsin’s request for a contested case hearing before an administrative law judge where interested parties can present evidence and cross-examine witnesses. That hearing has been postponed until an amended permit is issued.

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.”

“The destruction of this wetland is something that a little bit of tinkering with the information isn’t going to completely alleviate,” Feinauer said.

In the original permit application, Meteor 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.

“It’s a big project with a lot of moving parts,” Feinauer said. “I’m not averse to them modifying the permit if that’s really necessary because the facts on the ground have changed. I just hope the modification process is done in a transparent way.”

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Rhymes with Lubbock. La Crosse Tribune reporter and data geek. Covers energy, transportation and the environment, among other things. Call him at 608-791-8217.

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