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Hi Crush mine

Cleanup continues Monday on farm fields of the May 21 spill of 10 million gallons of mine sludge at the Hi-Crush sand mine in Whitehall.

Federal mine safety officials have cited the employer of a bulldozer driver who survived a 2½-hour ordeal under water at a Trempealeau County frac sand mine.

Robbie Gunderson was operating the CAT D6T May 21 when it went into a pond holding water and silt from processed sand at the Hi-Crush mine in Whitehall.

Rescue workers drained the pond to reach Gunderson, who survived inside the air-tight cab, spilling an estimated 10 million gallons of sludge onto neighboring land and into the Trempealeau River.

According to a report released by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, Gunderson was pushing waste material toward the pond in an effort to fill it when the ground underneath gave way and his bulldozer slid about 20 feet down into the water, which was approximately 12 feet deep.

The sand dump was not designed or constructed of materials to support the weight of the equipment, according to MSHA, which found it “reasonably likely” that the conditions could contribute to a fatality. MSHA cited Gerke for moderate negligence.

Agency spokeswoman Amy Louviere said the penalty has not been assessed and that Gerke first has an opportunity to dispute MSHA’s findings.

A company representative did not respond to messages left Wednesday.

In the days after his rescue, Gunderson issued a statement through a Madison public relations firm expressing gratitude to his “fellow workers at Hi-Crush, the emergency responders, my employer, Gerke Excavation, and the community I call home.” Gunderson declined interview requests.

Cleanup of the spill continues. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reported Monday that preliminary tests showed no “immediate toxicity” in samples of the sludge, which company officials said consisted primarily of water, clay and silt but could contain trace amounts of polyacrylamide, a chemical used to remove silt from the water.

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Chris Hubbuch can be reached at 608-791-8217. Follow him on Twitter @chrishubbuch.



Rhymes with Lubbock. La Crosse Tribune reporter and data geek. Covers energy, transportation and the environment, among other things.

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