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A Georgia investment company seeking to build a Monroe County frac sand terminal says if it isn’t allowed to fill 16 acres of pristine wetland forest, the current landowner will clear cut the land to pay off previous wetland violations.

Meteor Timber, one of the largest private landowners in Wisconsin, wants to build a processing and loading facility along Interstate 94 near the town of Millston to dry and ship frac sand the company will mine from a nearby site it acquired in 2014. The company expects to ship about 1.5 million tons of processed sand each year using the adjacent Union Pacific rail line.

Meteor applied in March to the Corps of Engineers and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for permission to fill about 16 acres of wetlands, including about 13 acres of “pristine” hardwood swamp.

Both agencies have requested additional information, including an explanation for why Meteor could not find another site.

On Friday, a Milwaukee public relations firm announced Meteor was filing an amended permit application, 12 days after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published a story noting the 16 acres would constitute the state’s single largest loss of wetlands to a sand project and about 60 percent of all sand-related wetland permits issued by the DNR since 2008.

Meteor says it will mitigate the loss by restoring and preserving other wetlands — in excess of what the law requires — and will make additional environmental enhancements at the 752-acre site.

The plant is expected to cost about $65 million and will support an estimated 100 full-time jobs, according to the company.

The site, which Meteor says is the only feasible location close enough to its mine, includes about 558 acres owned by the A & K Alexander Cranberry Co., which was sanctioned in 2013 by the Environmental Protection Agency for illegally filling 5.6 acres of wetlands. As part of the penalty, the EPA required A & K to restore 2.2 acres of the filled wetlands and to get an “after-the-fact” permit for the rest.

According to documents filed with the DNR, A & K managing partner Marty Alexander took out a one-year loan for $321,470 in August to purchase wetland credits needed to settle the case.

Alexander did not respond to a request for comment, but in a letter to Meteor he said if the sale does not go through, clear cutting the property is his only way to avoid foreclosure.

“That’s what presents the demonstrable threat to the property,” said Evan Zeppos, a spokesman representing Meteor. “He has the right to go ahead and cut it if there isn’t a transaction.”

A memo from a forest management company owned by Meteor says when distressed properties are logged, the results are typically devastating.

“Every stick of merchantable timber is harvested,” the memo states. “(T)here are huge piles of tree tops/limbs near public roads, and is just raw dirt being eroded away by the weather.”

Sara Geers, staff attorney for Midwest Environmental Advocates, said while clear cutting would be an environmental loss, the DNR should not allow Alexander and Meteor to “hold them hostage.”

“No matter the trade-off, that’s not something the agency should be allowed to use in making its decision,” Geers said. “It sets a bad precedent that future landowners can use.”

The nonprofit environmental law firm, in partnership with the Ho-Chunk Nation, has urged the Corps to deny Meteor’s permit application as submitted.

In the updated application, Meteor vows to rehabilitate about 58 acres of wetlands on the site, restore about a third of a mile of Rudd Creek, which has been modified for cranberry farming, and to put 413 acres of the land into a conservation easement, which would protect it from all future development.

Geers said the problem is that Meteor is proposing to restore wetlands on its own site, which would not have the same level of governmental oversight as other wetland mitigation programs.

“The history of that has been an abysmal failure,” she said of permittee-responsible mitigation. “They’re not successful in restoring or creating wetlands. That’s because restoring and creating wetlands is hard to do.”

Wetlands are a key component of the ecosystem, acting as natural water filters and supporting 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.

Both the Corps and the DNR have questioned the economic feasibility of the project, given a 43 percent drop in consumption of proppant sand from 2014 to 2016.

In spite of a recent industry slump, Meteor is in a unique position to have a profitable mining operation, according to an economic analysis prepared by a Pennsylvania consulting firm. That’s because the group owns land with large reserves of fine sands that are now in demand and if allowed to move forward would be able to load entire trains and put them onto the Union Pacific system, which would provide a direct link to Texas oil fields.

But according to the analysis, Meteor could not find another site on the UP line that could accommodate such a large loading facility, and drying the sand at the mine site would cost another $6 million and add 30 to 50 percent more operating costs.

Meteor has also said it would remove an old town road, reconnecting fragmented wetlands, re-introduce trout to the restored creek and install “eco-passages” designed to allow wildlife to pass under the rail spur.

Meteor wants to “make this an environmental win,” Zeppos said. “We think it demonstrates a big positive to the state of Wisconsin.”

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

(15) comments


I’m sure that there have to be better solutions to the whole problem of sand storage in the area. If they are trying to threaten the authorities by trying to clear the wetlands for their storage facility, that's really just underhanded and very unscrupulous! Surely people are more considerate towards the environment than that...

Luna A Sol

What a perversion of the truth! The Managed Forest Program is the custom made corporate welfare scam that has yielded billions in tax breaks for the forestry industry in Wisconsin (Think Koch Bros. among others). Rural counties struggle to maintain schools and local services while lumber interests whistle all the way to the bank.. A part of this massive tax break mandates the clear cutting of lands in the program....custom made for this crooked scheme that serves the right people.


The puke philosophy is if we chit our pants we'll save on toilet paper.


Yeah yeah and if and if there are 4 trees next to each other they think it's a forest too right?
What a dopey comment.


"if you made it and if you called it and if and...".
BS, tf


There is another solution.....sell the property. Take the proceeds and pay the fine.

Union Man

the republicon's think you can put water in a hole and call it wetlands


Trees grow back. Sand doesn't. Demonstrable treat is not someone holding an environmental gun to their own head.


How dare they create more wetlands than they destroy, save a swamp from being clear cut, fix some other environmental problems in the area AND create 100 full time jobs in our area. The nerve of some people!


This is exactly what I was thinking. Everyone seems focused on the loss of wetlands - but the fact is - more wetlands are created than lost.


Must be the answer to every article.
The Republicans did it or are going to do it or won't do it.


It will get worse and worse since Rump will try to privitize the Federal government.


Destroying our environment and our future for short-term gains--it's the republican way!


Although clear cuts are ugly and unnecessary, destroyed wetlands never come back. Under our "restructured", pro-industry DNR, this kind of false choice is about to become the new normal in "resource management". Sadly it's now only about the money---at all levels.


And as a bonus no one will clear cut the mine site for hundreds of years

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