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Unimin reverses course, expands Tunnel City mine operation

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Unimin plant

Unimin recently added 19 employs to its sand mining plant in Tunnel City

TOMAH — The idling of the Unimin Corp. sand mining facility in Tunnel City was short-lived.

Unimin announced Tuesday it has added 19 full-time employees at the plant. The announcement comes five months after Unimin announced it would idle the plant and lay off most of its 65 employees.

Plant manager Mark Massicotte said the plant ceased shipments for a week in March in preparation to idle, but orders quickly rebounded and no employees were laid off. The company had originally planned to begin layoffs March 21 and phase them in through May 21.

The plant began operation in late 2013.

“We have seen a steady increase in production the last three months,” Massicotte said. “In fact, we are closely monitoring demand and opportunities that could require additional staffing in the future.”

Massiciotte said the plant now employs 84 full-time workers.

Monroe County Economic Development Coordinator Steve Peterson said Unimin’s intentions in March were “misinterpreted.”

“It was going to be a slow process, and they were going to be back sooner rather than later,” Peterson said. “They were just trying to be upfront with the public.”

Town of Greenfield chairman Joe Bargle welcomed the news. The town stood to lose $200,000 annually from a 2011 agreement with Unimin that paid the town 10 to 15 cents per ton of sand extracted. Bargle said in March that the town was using the revenue for one-time expenditures to upgrade the town’s roads.

“Unimin Corporation has served as very good neighbors, and we welcome their continued growth and expansion,” Bargle said.

Demand for western Wisconsin sand, used to break open crude oil trapped in underground rock formations, has been sustained by recent expansion of drilling projects in Texas even as projects in North Dakota have been curtailed.

Peterson said Unimin didn’t have difficulty filling the positions.

“Frac sand jobs are good jobs,” he said. “They’re the kind of good-paying jobs with good benefits you want to apply for.”

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