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Our view: Frac proposal deserves scrutiny

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We certainly respect the disagreements and debate about whether the rapid growth of mining and shipping frac sand in western Wisconsin is, overall, a good thing.

But here’s one thing just about everyone should agree on: Threatening to hold natural resources hostage in order to obtain a permit is outrageous.

While a landowner has a right to cut trees on land he or she owns, the tone of this discussion seems more threatening than useful for a policy decision.

Thankfully, two regulatory agencies have the opportunity to show some spine, demand answers and set the tone that bullies have no place in setting and enforcing environmental policy.

Meteor Timber is a big Georgia company that is one of the largest private landowners in Wisconsin.

It wants to build a facility that would dry and ship about 1.5 million tons of processed frac sand each year.

The plant would cost an estimated $65 million to develop, and importantly, would employ about 100 people.

The site of the proposed plant includes 16 acres of wetlands – including 13 acres of what is described as pristine hardwood swamp.

That 16 acres may not sound like much, but it would represent the largest loss of wetlands to a sand project in the state.

After getting a fair amount of blowback, Meteor has filed an amended application with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Natural Resources claiming it wants to go restore and enhance 58 acres of wetlands – more than the law requires — and make additional environmental enhancements on the 752-acre site.

The corps and the DNR want more information – and they want to know why Meteor couldn’t simply find another site and leave the 16 acres of prime wetlands alone.

The nonprofit Midwest Environmental Advocates and Ho-Chunk Nation have sought denial of the permit.

But here’s where the real unpleasantness comes in: The current owner of 558 acres of the site, A&K Alexander Cranberry, has indicated that if the sale to Meteor doesn’t proceed, it will clear-cut timber in the wetlands in question.

Keep in mind, this is the same owner who was sanctioned by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2013 for filling in 5.6 acres of wetlands without a permit.

Sara Geers of Midwest Environmental Advocates argues that 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.”

It’s bad precedent. It’s bad policy. It’s bad for the environment.

The corps and the DNR have regulations to uphold and a process for considering applications for work that has an impact on our environment.

Whether this project is approved or not, it certainly shouldn’t be decided on the basis of threats from a company that clearly has ignored the permitting process in the past.

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