Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 11, 2013
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com
A board charged with protecting the Wisconsin River must decide this month whether a frac sand mine can be placed within its jurisdiction — a move that some board members feel is contrary to their mission.
The Wisconsin River is protected by state law for about 90 meandering miles from just northwest of Madison in Prairie Du Sac to its connection with the Mississippi River. A Lower Wisconsin State Riverway Board member estimated $30 million has been spent since 1989 to acquire protected land with the purpose of maintaining the river’s natural landscape.
Now, an Iowa company wants to establish a mine in part of the riverway to extract sand for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.Two members of the board in a memo said a frac sand mine had “the potential of undoing all the effort that has gone into establishing the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway.” The problem for mine opponents, however, is a provision in state law some call a “loophole” that will likely require the permit’s approval.
When the protected area was created in 1989, mining and quarrying were forbidden. In the 1990s, the law was amended to say a person proposing a non-metallic mine, which includes frac sand mines, “shall” be granted a permit if certain standards were met.
Board Director Mark Cupp said frac sand mines — which have started booming in the past few years — were not intended to be included in that part of the law. The alteration was meant to allow local governments to operate small sand pits for winter pavement and maintenance purposes, not major industrial frac sand mining, he said.…
Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 5, 2013
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com
The fast-growing sand mining industry is grappling with a rising number of environmental problems across western Wisconsin.
Many of the cases involve water pollution — where vast piles of sand, sediment and dirt have washed off properties, often after heavy rains, and contaminated waterways.
Since November 2011, the Department of Natural Resources has issued 20 notices of violation to 19 companies, according to agency records. The notice is a formal letter alleging a violation of state environmental regulations.
Five companies alone violated their storm-water permits in April and May, the DNR says, when rain and melting snow washed debris into streams and wetlands in Barron and Trempealeau counties.
Three of the DNR’s cases have been referred to the state Department of Justice for prosecution, where a spokeswoman said all remain under review. Other cases could go to the attorney general, DNR officials said last week.
The enforcement activity highlights the difficulties in the early going for an industry that’s mushroomed as sand companies supply a key ingredient for a practice known as fracking, a controversial technique used to extract oil and natural gas.
There are also worries in the environmental community that the DNR should devote more resources to sand mines, which in some cases are not inspected before they open.…
Source: http://www.startribune.com, July 13, 2013
By: Tony Kennedy
In Wisconsin, frac-sand mines in Trempealeau, Buffalo and Barron counties are creating unstable piles of sand waste and illicit wastewater runoff.
In Minnesota, state health officials are studying two chemicals widely used in frac-sand processing as contaminants of “emerging concern.”
Four years into a mining boom that is reshaping parts of the rural countryside, mining companies and government regulators are coming to grips with the reality that the new industry involves much more than scooping sand out of the ground and hauling it away.
The states’ burgeoning frac-sand industry, they have found, creates waste streams they are scrambling to understand and control.
From pyramids of discarded sand to sludge that accumulates in filtering devices, the mines create tons of waste byproducts that must be managed until they can be plowed back into the ground as part of reclamation plans designed to protect the environment and preserve the rural landscape.
“The industry just came on too fast,” said Ruth King, a stormwater specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “I wish we could turn back the clock a couple of years and start over.”
In a rash of continuing violations that started last year, heavy rains have combined with sand-processing water to overflow holding ponds on several mining sites. The breaches have dumped sandy sediment into public waters, where it can suffocate fish eggs, kill aquatic plants and rob fish of habitat they need to reproduce.…
Source: http://www.jsonline.com, April 22, 2013
By: Thomas Content
Wisconsin utilities are spending $1.2 billion to clean up aging coal-fired power plants and shutting down older plants under a settlement announced Monday with federal environmental regulators.
Under the settlement, filed in federal court in Madison on Earth Day, the utilities will be assessed a civil penalty of $2.45 million for alleged violations of air pollution laws over the years.
Wisconsin Power & Light Co. and the other utilities also agreed to pay $8.5 million to fund a series of environmental projects over the next five years. The projects include a $5 million investment in solar power and a $2 million investment to boost power production at wind and hydroelectric projects in Wisconsin.
But the big-ticket item in the settlement is the nearly $1.2 billion the utilities are spending to keep the largest of the coal plants operating by adding more modern pollution controls.
The settlement was filed in federal court in Madison Monday and then announced by EPA, the Sierra Club and Alliant Energy Corp., parent company of WPL.
The settlement, in the works for months, primarily involves Madison-based WPL, but also includes utilities that co-own or previously co-owned coal-fired power plants with WPL. Others named in the settlement are Wisconsin Public Service Corp. of Green Bay, Madison Gas & Electric Co. of Madison and We Energies of Milwaukee.
“This settlement will improve air quality in Wisconsin and downwind areas by significantly reducing releases of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and other harmful pollutants,” said Ignacia Moreno, an assistant U.S. Attorney General, in a statement.…
Source: Wisconsin State Journal, March 27, 2013
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com
Responding to the explosion in the number of frac-sand mining operations in Wisconsin, state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout is circulating a set of five bills that would give local governments and property owners more information and more power over the location and operation of such facilities.
Vinehout, D-Alma, represents a district in western Wisconsin that includes numerous mines and processing plants. About 100 such operations have been proposed around Wisconsin in the past two years as demand for the fine-grained sand has grown.
Frac sand is found primarily in central and northwestern Wisconsin and is used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a method that releases trapped oil and natural gas reserves that is booming in Texas, North Dakota, New York and elsewhere.
Vinehout’s bills would require:
–Frac-sand operations to obtain conditional use permits, allowing local officials to negotiate conditions of operation for mines and processing plants.
–Counties to issue licenses for sand exploration and for the state Department of Natural Resources to provide technical assistance, if needed, to counties.
–A 30-day public notice and notifications to nearby property owners and occupants any time a local government is considering a sand application.
–A property seller to disclose any proposals for sand operations on any neighboring property.
–A 2,500-foot buffer between sand operations and single- or two-family residential zoning districts.
Vinehout described the measures as “a common-sense approach to involving local people in decision making by arming them with information.” She said she separated the proposed legislation into five bills in hopes of gaining some support from Republicans, who control both the Assembly and Senate.
“I feel like there were some pieces we could all agree on,” she said.
Email and voice messages left with the Wisconsin Industrial Sand Association, which represents frac-sand operators, were not immediately returned Tuesday.
The Miller Park stadium district and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of America reached a multimillion-dollar agreement on Jan. 7 to settle a three-year court battle over costly repairs to the ballpark’s retractable roof.
With the settlement, the two parties avoided a lengthy jury trial that was scheduled to start Jan 10.
The two sides had traded accusations ever since the Milwaukee Brewers opened the stadium in 2001 and the problems started with extensive leakage every time it rained.
The stadium district sued Mitsubishi and HCH, the general contractor in charge of stadium construction, in January 2002, alleging mismanagement and negligence in the roof’s construction. The district’s damage claim eventually grew from $5 million to nearly $49 million.
A month later, Mitsubishi filed a counterclaim arguing the district owed it money for the extra time and materials needed to complete the roof. Mitsubishi sought as much as $87 million in damages, but Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Kitty Brennan cut that damage claim to about $37 million.
The agreement, approved by the judge, calls for the stadium district to receive nearly $33 million, $4 million of which would come from Mitsubishi to cover repairs for the defects in the roof, according to settlement documents released by the district.
Mitsubishi would receive $22 million, $6 million of which would come from the district to settle Mitsubishi’s claim of cost overruns.
The settlement also releases Mitsubishi of its warranty for the retractable part of the roof, district officials said.
The district already had set aside enough money to settle Mitsubishi’s claim and will need no additional tax money, board chairman Jay Williams said.…
By: Steven M. Siros, Jenner & Block
On November 21, 2012, a federal district court in Wisconsin rejected PRP efforts to seek modification of the remedial plan established by U.S. EPA and the State of Wisconsin to address PCB-contaminated sediments in the Fox River. In 2010, U.S. EPA and the State of Wisconsin sued several potentially responsible parties (“PRPs”) in order to enforce a Unilateral Administrative Order (“UAO”) that had been issued in 2007. As part of that enforcement proceeding, several PRPs argued that U.S. EPA and the State of Wisconsin had acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner by failing to issue a formal ROD amendment for the Fox River PCB remediation in light of significant exceedences of the original cost estimates.
In 2003, U.S. EPA issued a ROD requiring the dredging of approximately 6.5 million cubic yards of contaminated sediments at an estimated cost of approximately $325 million. In 2007, a ROD amendment was issued that adopted a hybrid approach that provided for both capping and dredging the PCB-contaminated sediments. The estimated cost of the hybrid remedy was $432 million. In 2009, remediation costs for the hybrid remedy were projected to increase to $701 million (although the PRPs argued that remediation costs were really closer to $1.5 billion). Notwithstanding the significant cost increases, U.S. EPA didn’t issue another ROD amendment but instead issued an Explanation of Significant Differences (“ESD”). The ESD acknowledged the cost increase but concluded that the increase did not pose a “fundamental” change that would necessitate a ROD amendment.
The court rejected the PRPs’ argument that the cost increase by itself required the issuance of a ROD amendment. Although the court acknowledged that a 62% cost increase was significant, the court concluded that the cost increase itself did not alter the basic features of the remedy such that a ROD amendment would be required. Merely because something is more expensive does not change the basics of the underlying remedy, the court concluded.
The PRPs also raised a number of technical issues that they contend demonstrated a clear bias by the governmental agencies in favor of the more expensive dredging remedy. The court rejected these arguments, finding that “the record demonstrates a colossal effort to get it right and to consider all options fairly and honestly—without prejudice, without arbitrariness and without caprice.” The court therefore denied the PRPs summary judgment motions and instead granted summary judgment in favor of the government on the issue of the propriety of the hybrid remedy.
To read a copy of the court’s opinion, please click here.…