Atlanta based Meteor Timber is taking the state Department of Natural Resources to court as part of a four-year push to build a frac sand processing facility on 16 acres of high quality wetlands in Monroe County.
Since 2015, Meteor Timber has sought approval to build a $75 million frac sand processing and rail loading facility on property that includes rare hardwood swamp. Environmental groups and the Ho-Chunk Nation have opposed the project.
In 2017, the DNR issued a wetland fill permit despite objections — obtained by WPR through an open records request — that showed staff felt pressured to approve the permit despite what staff called a lack of basic information from the company about how it would mitigate the wetland destruction.
The Ho-Chunk Nation, Midwest Environmental Advocates and Clean Wisconsin challenged the DNR’s permit through a contested case hearing and in May of 2018, an administrative law judge overturned the Meteor Timber permit saying the agency lacked important information and didn’t prove it could mitigate the loss of the rare wetlands.
Meteor Timber disagreed and pointed to thousands of pages of documents submitted to the DNR throughout the permitting process.
The company appealed the administrative law judge’s decision and asked the DNR to review and potentially overturn it through a little used state statute. Former DNR Secretary Dan Meyer, an appointee of former Gov. Scott Walker agreed to have a staff attorney review the matter but no decision was made before Gov. Tony Evers took office in January.
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In May of 2019, Evers’ DNR Secretary-designee Preston Cole announced the agency would drop its review of the matter without issuing a decision on whether the agency was right to issue the wetland fill permit two years before. Cole said the matter would be best decided by the circuit court system if the parties couldn't settle their disagreement.
In a petition for judicial review submitted May 31, Meteor Timber is challenging Cole’s decision saying it was "inconsistent with the WDNR’s rules, policies and past practices, and violates a constitutional or statutory provision." The company has asked the Monroe County Circuit Court to overturn the decision that invalidated Meteor Timber’s wetland fill permit.
In a statement sent to WPR Thursday afternoon DNR Secretary Communications Director Sarah Hoye reaffirmed that Secretary Cole "closed the Meteor permit review without issuing a decision."
"We are open to discussions with all of the parties on the next steps toward resolution of this matter," wrote Hoye. "That said, because the matter remains pending in litigation, we will not comment further."
Representatives of Meteor Timber, Clean Wisconsin and Midwest Environmental Advocates either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment made by WPR.