A Georgia timber investment company seeking to build an industrial sand operation in Monroe County is proposing what it calls “the largest wetland preservation and restoration effort” in Wisconsin history in exchange for a permit to fill 16 acres of wetland forest.
Meteor Timber announced a proposal Tuesday to put an additional 178 acres — most of which it says are high quality wetlands — into conservation. Coupled with a previously proposed conservation project on the company’s land, that would result in more than 640 acres of preservation, about 40 times the amount of wetland that would be claimed by the project.
Jeffrey Olson, section chief for the Army Corps of Engineers, said that would likely be the largest mitigation effort for a single project, though he noted there are much larger wetland restorations.
A map of the proposed conservation areas was not immediately available Tuesday.
“Most of the 178 acres is high quality wetlands,” said Evan Zeppos, a spokesman for Meteor. “Most of it. Not all of it.”
One of the largest private landowners in Wisconsin, Meteor 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.
That would require destruction of some 16 acres of wetlands, including about 13 acres of “pristine” hardwood swamp, which would be the state’s largest single loss of wetland for a sand project. Meteor would still be required to offset the wetland loss through the purchase of credits, which fund wetland restoration efforts elsewhere in the state.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources determined Tuesday that Meteor’s wetland application is complete, setting a public hearing for April and opening a 60-day public comment period.
The project would also need approval from the Corps of Engineers. Olson said the Corps scheduled a meeting with the DNR and company representatives Wednesday at the behest of Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.
Earlier this year, Meteor proposed going above and beyond state mitigation requirements with the restoration and conservation of wetlands on nearby land in addition to environmental enhancements on the 752-acre site.
The company also said permitting its $65 million project would be the only way to prevent the land from being clear-cut.
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 cited 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 another 3.63 acres.
According to documents filed in support of the application, A&K managing partner Marty Alexander took out a one-year loan for $321,470 in August to settle the case. In a letter to Meteor, Alexander said if the sale does not go through, logging would be his only way to avoid foreclosure.
In addition to setting aside adjacent land, Meteor has promised to remove an unused roadbed and two existing cranberry operations on the land, to restore a section of Rudd Creek and open it to public fishing, and to include tunnels to allow wildlife to pass under its rail spur.
The company said the project will result in about 100 new jobs.