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The state of Wisconsin will hold a hearing next month to review whether a Georgia timber company should be allowed to fill wetlands for a frac sand processing site in Monroe County.

Clean Wisconsin last year challenged the Department of Natural Resources’ decision to issue Meteor Timber a permit to fill 16.25 acres of wetlands for the proposed $65 million processing and loading facility near Millston.

A contested case hearing, a process similar to a court trial, has been scheduled for Feb. 26 through March 2 in Tomah.

An administrative law judge will listen to testimony and determine whether the project will have significant adverse environmental consequences and is the least environmentally harmful alternative as well as whether the DNR had sufficient information and followed procedures outlined in state statute.

A pre-hearing is scheduled for Feb. 20 in Madison to identify parties, witnesses and exhibits and clarify issues to be contested at the hearing. Any people or organizations who want to take part in the case must appear at the pre-hearing.

The environmental advocacy group 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 “may lead to increased applications to fill rare, sensitive and valuable wetland plant communities.”

Meteor has proposed to restore and preserve more than 640 acres of other land near the the 752-acre site, 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.

Wetlands are a key component of the ecosystem, acting as natural flood control and water filters that support a wide range of wildlife, including a disproportionate number of rare and endangered species. According to the DNR, Wisconsin has only about half the amount of wetlands it did when the first European settlers arrived. Most of those remaining 5.3 million acres are in the northern third of the state.

Wisconsin has only about half the amount of wetlands it did when the first European settlers arrived. Most of those remaining 5.3 million acres are in the northern third of the state.

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Reporter

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

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