A sand mine in the town of Greenfield is laying off 29 employees.

Covia Corp. informed the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development that the layoffs, all hourly positions, include 17 laborers, 11 mobile equipment operators and one maintenance position.

In a Jan. 31 letter to DWD, Covia vice-president for Human Resources Jennifer Fox wrote that layoffs were to take effect Feb. 7 and that employees would continue to receive wages and benefits owed them through April 8.

“We are unsure of the duration of this layoff, and it may be permanent,” Fox wrote.

Covia released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying that the Tunnel City plant still employs 100 people and “remains operational and serving the needs of our customers. We are committed to helping impacted employees through this transition, including via outplacement services.”

Monroe County Economic Development coordinator Steve Peterson attributed the layoffs to fluctuating demand for frac sand.

“We see frac sand mines go up and down with employees due to the demand for sand or whether they can get rail service,” Peterson said.

He said the local economy is strong and can absorb the job losses.

“If people are looking for work, they should be able to find it real quick,” Peterson said.

DWD maintains a “rapid response team” to provide transition assistance for workers and companies affected by permanent layoffs. Services include:

  • Pre-layoff workshops on topics such as resume writing and interviewing, job search strategies and budgeting.
  • Provision of information about programs and resources through written materials and information sessions.
  • Career and resource fairs.

The Tunnel City plant was opened by Connecticut-based Unimin Corp. in 2013. In 2016, Unimin announced plans to idle the plant and lay off 65 employees but reversed course five months later.

Last May, Unimin merged with Fairmount Santrol to create Covia Corp. In September, Covia suspended operation of a sand mine in Shakopee, Minnesota.

Before construction, Unimin agreed to pay the town of Greenfield a fee of 10 to 15 cents per ton of sand mined. The fee was expected to generate $200,000 annually for the town, and town board chair David Pierce said Greenfield received “north of $200,000” in 2018.

“They had a good year last year, and I would think we would be in that ballpark every year,” Pierce said.

He said a Covia representative attends Greenfield’s town board meeting every month.

“We’re aware of what’s going on,” he said.

The plant produces northern white sand “proppants” — another word for frac sand — which are used to open fissures beneath the earth’s surface to release oil in frac sand operations.

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Tomah Journal editor

Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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