Safeguarding Our Wetlands

Wisconsin’s wetlands are vital to the health and vibrancy of our waters.

Wetlands purify our water, sequester climate-changing carbon, protect our homes from flooding, and support the life of diverse and rare wildlife. They also provide limitless value and enjoyment for bird waters, anglers, kayakers and paddlers, and many others.

Wetlands in Wisconsin have long been a threatened resources. According to the state DNR, half as many wetlands remain today as in the 1800s. And in our own time, the threats continue.

A Problematic Permit

In June, an out-of-state frac sand company received a permit to permanently destroy more than 16 acres of a rare and valuable wetland forest in northern Monroe County. Atlanta-based Meteor Timber is proposing to fill the wetland for a frac sand drying facility.

If the project moves forward, it would be the largest wetland fill for an industrial frac sand project in the state.

In June 2017, we filed a challenge to the approved permit. Find our petition here.

Approving a permit to fill 16.25 acres of wetland, 13.37 of those acres being an exceptional quality White Pine-Red Maple Swamp, an imperiled wetland plant community, may lead to increased applications to fill rare, sensitive and valuable wetland plant communities.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

From Meteor Timber's wetland fill permit

Total acres of wetlands to be filled with this single project

 As compared to

Total acres of wetlands filled for frac sand projects since 2008

Strong Response

Our legal challenge is based on a few important factors.

First, It’s troubling that the DNR would approve a permit in which they admit that these wetlands are “imperiled” and of “exceptional” value. Approving this permit, given this information, has negative consequences for this wetland and possibly for other rare wetlands in the future.

Second, the permit lacks important and necessary details that would help the DNR to make an educated decision on the project. In certain instances, the DNR is allows Meteor Timber to provide some of  this information after they receive the permit, taking public involvement out of the permit process.

These factors have negative implications for this vulnerable wetland, and also for the integrity of the permitting process.

 

Victory

After a week-long hearing in Spring of 2018, the administrative court ruled in our favor, invalidating the permit. This ruling is a win for the people of Wisconsin, our pristine wetlands, and the integrity of our environmental laws, and it reinforces the DNR’s duty to protect our natural resources for the public.

Moving Forward

Since this ruling, the case has been appealed to the circuit court level. However, that appeal is currently halted, because Meteor Timber, invoking a little-known administrative rule, has also asked the DNR Secretary to directly review the judge’s ruling and reinstate the invalidated permit. We do not believe it is appropriate for DNR to review the ruling of an independent judge on one of the Department’s own permits. Further, this review is not authorized by statute, so Clean Wisconsin has filed a separate legal challenge to the DNR Secretary’s authority to review decisions issues by independent judges in contested cases like this one.

Currently, the Secretary’s review continues while Clean Wisconsin’s challenge to DNR’s authority to conduct that review proceeds in Circuit Court. Clean Wisconsin will continue working to protect these rare and valuable wetlands in the multiple appeals filed by Meteor Timber.