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Neighbors, local officials urge DNR to reject wetland permit for Jackson County frac operation

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BLACK RIVER FALLS – Residents and local officials expressed concerns Wednesday about the environmental, social and economic impacts of a proposed Jackson County frac sand operation that is the subject of a legal challenge.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is considering a Colorado company's request to fill about 4 acres of hardwood swamp in order to build nearly 10 miles of railroad track in two towns along the banks of Halls Creek, a class II trout stream.

OmniTRAX Logistics says it will use the terminal to fill more than 80 rail cars per day with sand from a nearby mine. Sand will be processed near the mine and brought to the rail terminal by a nearly 2-mile long conveyor that will pass under two public roads.

Pete Segerson, a former DNR fisheries supervisor, was one of about 50 people to attend a public hearing Wednesday afternoon on the proposed wetland permit and questioned the DNR’s scrutiny of the application, calling it “weak and incomplete.”

One of two anti-frac supervisors elected last year to the Adams town board, Segerson said the project is likely to have a negative impact on water quality and criticized the agency for not examining the potential for creosote to leak from approximately 31,000 rail ties.

Others said the project would drive down their property values and ruin the aesthetics of the creek, a popular destination for paddlers.

OmniTRAX says it intends to ship about 3 million tons of sand per year to Montana and Texas, where it will be used to extract oil in a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The permit application was originally submitted in 2015 by the Canadian company Terracor, which later filed for bankruptcy. OmniTRAX, a shipping logistics firm, later acquired Terracor's assets, including rights to the 945-acre site about five miles north of Black River Falls.

The DNR says the project will create habitat fragmentation and raised concerns about the impact of a 24-hour industrial operation on wildlife.

Three families with adjacent land have sued to block the project, claiming the mine and processing facility would create a nuisance and infringe on their rights to the peaceful enjoyment of their own property. La Crosse County Circuit Judge Scott Horne has yet to rule on whether the case can go forward.

Last year, Horne dismissed a similar nuisance case against AllEnergy Sands, which is seeking to build a 750-acre mine and processing operation several miles away. That case is now before the state court of appeals.

Jackson County Supervisor Jerry Schmidt presented the agency with a petition opposing the plan signed by nearly 400 land owners from the town of Adams, population 1,342. He said about 200 people in the neighboring town of Alma had signed a similar petition.

“The people of this township, the majority of people from both townships, do not want this sand mine,” he said. “I represent the people.”

John Bahnub, whose family owns 80 acres that would be used for the proposed rail terminal, dismissed the concerns and said they had no place at the hearing.

“Shame on 'em,” he said. “I feel this is going to enhance the wildlife. They’ll have a safe haven.”

Brian Flick, who owns about 68 acres that would be used for the loading terminal, accused Schmidt of falsifying the signatures and said he doesn’t think the project will have negative impacts.

“I think if everybody does their jobs, I don’t see no problem,” Flick said.

No one else spoke in favor of the project.

Jon Schultz, a supervisor in neighboring Trempealeau County, questioned whether the demand for frac sand could support another mine and what impact it might have on his county’s 20 operations.

“Not all economic activity is necessarily economic development,” Schultz said. “I’m concerned about the benefit of this industry to the state and making sure this is not a resource simply being extracted.… The impacts (will be) borne by local residents for multiple generations.”

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