By Scott Thomson, TCT News Editor

This article was recently published in the Trempealeau County Times on January 16, 2014. It has been published on our website with their permission.

The state Department of Natural Resources last week approved a key element of a proposed major industrial sand-mining project in the town of Arcadia that was rejected by a Trempealeau County committee last fall.

The DNR last week Monday ruled that AllEnergy’s plans for a railroad loop meets state standards for wetland water quality certificaton and navigable waterways. The state agency’s approval came as papers were being filed in a lawsuit brought by the Des Moines, Iowa-based AllEnergy and its Arcadia subsidiary, challenging the county environment and land use committee’s Oct. 9 denial of the conditional use permit required for operation of the hydraulic-fracturing sand mining, processing and loading facilities.

At that time, the AllEnergy operation would have been the largest yet proposed in the county, at least in terms of the inital design, topping the Sand Products of Wisconsin operation being developed south and east of Whitehall by 50 acres or so. The SPW project was approved in later March, despite a recommendation not to grant the CUP by the county Department of Land Management, which processes permit applications and presents them to to the committee.

The ELU committee, its makeup changed by resignations and the appointments of two new citizen members, voted five to three to deny the CUP. AllEnergy filed a suit in Trempealeau County Circuit Court in early November, and continued seeking DNR approval while that legal action was in process; the company apparently may also seek to annex to the city of Arcadia to the north, and would need state permits to operate there, as well.

AllEnergy, in a press release, noted that the DNR approval concluded a stringent permit review process and “marks the latest victory for community proponents of a state-of-the-art sand-mining operation that would bring jobs, tax revenue and millions of dollars in charitable investment to the region over the next three decades.”

“We understand the painstaking steps the DNR takes to protect Wisconsin’s wetlands, and we are proud to have a site plan that meets theses rigorous requirements,” said Dean Sukowatey, president and chief executive officer of AllEnergy. “We have worked hard to develop a plan that benefits local jobs and commerce while meeting out responsibilities as environmental stewards.”

The proposed AllEnergy project was approved by the Arcadia town board last summer, although not without some opposition. “I applaud the DNR’s exercise of due diligence and AllEnergy’s commitment to protecting our local wetlands,” said Ron Tuschner. “This process should serve as a model for state-private cooperation to achieve business development in an environmentally friendly manner.”

AllEnergy’s lawsuit claims that the ELU’s denial of its permit should be reversed on one of any five grounds. Those include that the committee did not keep within its jurisdiction and proceeded on incorrect theories of law; that its decision was arbitrary, oppressive and unreasonable, represented its will and not its judgement, and was not based on substantial evidence; and the one or more ELU members evidenced bias and prejudgment against the company’s application.

To the last of those points, the suit cites comments made by Hensel Vold of Eleva, a county board representative on the committee who last month resigned his supervisory seat. The AllEnergy suit claims Vold said that he had voted against the application because he believed it was filed in an attempt to avoid the moratorium on new sand mine permits enacted by the board earlier in the year.

The suit also notes that one of the citizen members, Ed Patzner of Arcadia, was asked to provide his reasons for voting to deny the CUP. Patzner read from a prepared written statement, the suit claims, stating that the county should promote agriculture and discourage non-metallic mining.

The suit asks that the court declare the ELU’s decision void, award AllEnergy costs and attorney’s fees and grant whatever other relief it sees fit.