The Iowa company pursuing a frac sand mine within the protected Lower Wisconsin State Riverway has no intention of withdrawing its application, despite being urged to do so by the board that oversees development within the corridor.
“Pattison Sand Co. owes it to our customers, employees and the land owners to move forward with the project,” says Beth Regan, spokeswoman for the Clayton, Iowa-based firm. “We cannot withdraw our request now. Too much work has gone into the project."
Existing rules allow nonmetallic mining within the 92-mile riverway corridor as long as the operation is not visible from the river itself, although there is some ambiguity regarding those rules as it pertains to an industrial mine.
The Riverway Board last week sent a letter to Pattison, saying the number of trucks moving in and out of the mine site on Wisconsin 60 would detract from the riverway.
“While it may be possible to satisfy the letter of the law regarding the lack of visual impacts resulting from the mining activity, the board finds the related impacts will be detrimental to the riverway,” the board said.
When at full operation, the proposed sand mine could send up to 120 trucks a day west on Highway 60 from the mine site headed to Pattison’s processing facility on the Iowa side of the Mississippi River. The processed sand would be shipped out of state via rail cars for use in hydraulic fracturing that helps free underground deposits of natural gas.
The project site in the town of Bridgeport is about 300 acres, with 178 acres being the mine itself. It could operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week but Pattison says it doesn’t anticipate running at full strength all the time.
“We could be loading up to five trucks per hour when we are operating,” says Regan. “The trucks are the same or similar to grain trucks. Our industry is based on market demand, and as such, our operations try to respond to that demand."
The project has generated strong opposition from many living in the Prairie du Chien area, along with those who paddle, fish or boat the riverway. Among the groups fighting the project are the Crawford Stewardship Project and the Friends of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway (FLOW)
Pattison has had problems at another site it operates.
Last month, the company was cited by the state Department of Natural Resources for violating its air pollution permit at a facility in Prairie du Chien where processed sand is transferred from trucks to rail cars. Pattison says it is taking steps to address those problems and has not been fined.
Another legal concern raised by opponents are the scenic easements along Wisconsin 60 included in the Highway Beautification Act of 1965. Those easements are “to preserve, protect, and improve where necessary for scenic purposes, a panoramic view of the countryside adjoining State Hwy. 60, and to prevent any future development which may tend to detract from them,” according to an open letter sent to Pattison by the two opponent groups.
These easements, while not within the area to be mined, conflict with the purpose of the Highway Beautification Act, says Edie Ehlert, Crawford Stewardship Project co-coordinator.
But Pattison says the potential impact is being overstated.
“We are confident that this development will not adversely affect the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway,” says Regan. “And we believe the board, after considering all the facts, will come to the same conclusion.”
No timetable for action on the permit application has been set by the Riverway Board. The town of Bridgeport also is reviewing the mining proposal for compliance but has also not reached a decision.