The Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board has requested that Pattison Sand Company and four landowners voluntarily withdraw their application for a permit to create a frac sand mine in Bridgeport Township on a 200-acre site that lies partially within the Riverway boundary.
With little discussion, the Riverway Board unanimously adopted a motion on a voice vote that directed the organization’s executive director, Mark Cupp, to send a letter requesting the “voluntary withdrawal” of the permit applications by Pattison and the landowners.
Part of the request stated, “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 Riverway.”
Although Kyle Pattison and other Pattison Sand Company officials attended the meeting held in Muscoda on Thursday, Feb.14, they declined to respond to the board’s action asking them to voluntarily cease attempts to create a frac sand mine in Bridgeport Township.
However by Monday, Feb.18, Pattison Sand had drafted a one-paragraph response to the board’s request that they voluntarily withdraw their permit requests.
“Pattison Sand Company owes it to our customers, employees and the land owners to move forward with the project,” the company response stated. “We cannot withdraw our request now. Too much work has gone into the project. We are confident that this development will not adversely effect (sic) the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway. And we believe the board, after considering all the facts, will come to the same conclusion.”
However, the board did not reach that conclusion at their meeting last Thursday night. In addition to directing the executive director to draft the letter to Pattison and the landowners, the board also directed Cupp to seek technical assistance from the Department of Natural Resources with computer modeling and imaging to help analyze the visual impacts from the mine.
The Riverway Board declined to consider Pattison and the landowners permit requests until there was a response to the letter and other concerns were addressed.
Cupp used a PowerPoint presentation to show the areas on the properties with greatest sensitivity to the “view shed issues.”
Dorothy Stroschein, an attorney representing Pattison, reminded Cupp and other board members that mining activities will have a 500-foot setback and the issue of the mine’s visual impact is to be determined when leaves are on the trees. Cupp’s photos were taken recently.
Riverway Board Chairperson Don Greenwood said looking at the maps of the area it was questionable as to whether the standards would be met.
“”I’m not saying they will or they won’t,” the chairperson added.
Greenwood questioned the methodology being used to measure the potential visual impact of the sand mining activity. He noted the situation is quite different than many of the situations dealt with by the Riverway Board. Often, the concern is for the visual impact of adding something to the landscape like a house or another building, according to Greenwood. While in this case, he believes the concern about visual impact will involve removing “a huge chunk” of the landscape.
“When you’re talking about removing that much, I have a sneaking suspicion that it will become more visible than what can be seen now with the landscape intact,” Greenwood said. “We need to use a more scientific methodology.”
The board’s chairperson questioned whether the mining company could use its skilled survey people and engineers to create a 3-D model of the project with available computer software. Greenwood also asked that models reflect what the sand mine might look like 20 or 60 years into the project.
“This project has such huge implications for the Riverway,” Greenwood said.
Kyle Pattison agreed that 3D modeling could be done, but questioned the need. He noted the photographs taken by Cupp would be sufficient to answer the questions about visibility of the project from the river. Pattison downplayed Greenwood’s concern that removing a large part of the landscape would increase the visual impact of the project. The sand company owner said that land removed would be below any sort of sight line and therefore it would not create a visual impact.
For her part, Pattison’s attorney, Dorothy Stroschein, appeared to be unhappy with what she termed “a fourteenth hour” request for modeling to be created of the visual impact at the site. She noted that Pattison had been dealing with the Riverway board for months and the request was never made until the February meeting.
One board member, George Arimond said that the burden of modeling would not necessarily have to fall entirely on the Pattison Company. He said he believed the Wisconsin DNR might have expertise in the area of modeling and should be asked to help.
Maybe Riverway Board member Ron Leys summed up the current state of the frac sand mine permit request the best of anyone.
“It’s a difficult process for Pattison,” Leys observed at one point. “It’s difficult for us and it’s difficult for the public.”
Public comment was held at the end of the meeting. Several opponents of the proposed frac sand mine made brief statements before Roger Reynolds, a member of the FLOW (Friends of the Lower Wisconsin Riverway) made some statements about Pattison’s safety record.
Reynolds began by noting Pattison had been cited for numerous violations of mining safety regulations.
Beth Regan, Pattison’s permits and compliance officer, pointed out that most mining operations receive citations for minor safety violations and it was not unusual for operations like Pattison’s.
Undeterred by Regan’s comment, Reynolds pointed out that there had been a fatality in Pattison's operation in Iowa in 2008 and the company was shutdown temporarily in 2011 by the Mining Safety Administration for improper supports in the mine.
Reynolds went on to explain that the minor violations like the lack of reflective tape on a vehicle, a broken mirror and other things were cited as the contributing factors in the mine’s 2008 fatality.
The FLOW member urged the Riverway Board to put as many conditions on the permit for the sand mine as possible given Pattison’s past record of compliance with regulations. Reynolds ended his presentation by reminding the board that there were recent complaints of the Pattison Company’s railroad loading site in Prairie du Chien, which led to action by the DNR.
In other business, the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board:
• approved several permits for timber harvesting and habitat management of both public and private land
• heard a report from Dan Baumann, who was recently appointed as the DNR’s Western Regional Director and grew up in Muscoda using the Wisconsin River