Preferred Sands ordered to pay $200,000 in Trempealeau stormwater violation

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MADISON — Preferred Sands of Wisconsin LLC has been ordered by a Trempealeau County circuit court judge to pay $200,000 for stormwater violations at a 350-acre sand mine near Blair.

According to the civil complaint, Preferred Sands also did not notify the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources when it expanded production by processing 100 rail cars of sand from the Preferred Sands site in the Town of Cooks Valley northeast of Colfax.

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen announced December 16 that his office had obtained a judgment against Preferred Sands.

The Preferred Sands site in the Town of Cooks Valley, owned by Preferred Sands of Minnesota, covers 225 acres and received a reclamation permit from Chippewa County on June 8, 2011.

According to the civil complaint, the 350-acre Preferred Sands site near Blair is situated on top of a bluff with neighboring homes, woods and farm fields located downhill.

In February and March of 2012, Preferred Sands was running out of sand to process at the dry plant and shipped approximately 100 rail cars containing 100 tons of sand each from the Cooks Valley site to process at the site near Blair.

The civil complaint states that Preferred Sands did not install enough best-management-practices to contain the waste piles before adding to or creating new waste piles.

On the evening of May 2, 2012, or the early morning of May 3, 2012, a rain event triggered a discharge of a 2,100 foot plume of stormwater containing sediment that went through a neighboring property, across Larkin Valley Road, and into Larkin Valley Creek and an adjacent wetland.

The discharge also caused sediment to run into the first floor of one home, into a garage on another property, into a field and garden of yet another property and into a pine plantation.

The stormwater left more than six inches of sediment on Larkin Valley Road.

Sediment  also had been discharged into Larkin Valley Creek, and up to six inches of sediment had been deposited in wetlands adjacent to the stream.

“The waste piles that caused the May 2-3 discharges were too high, too steeply sloped, and no (best-management-practices) were in place to direct or treat run off from the piles,”’ according to the civil complaint.

DNR staff estimated that the waste pile had been at ten feet to 15 high and had covered nearly 7.5 acres.

The mining area at the time of discharge was approximately 160 acres open and exposed to the elements, the civil complaint states.

The 2011 reclamation plan administered by Trempealeau County indicated 35 acres would be used for processing and 21 acres for mining.

“Instead of mining and reclaiming in five to ten-acre phases, Preferred Sands has continued to clear the site, stockpile waste and mine without reclaiming any of the site,” according to the civil complaint.

“Preferred Sands did not notify DNR, amend its (storm water pollution prevention plan), or plan for additional stormwater management needs prior to expanding the operation in 2012,” the civil complaint states.

The court has ordered Preferred Sands to pay $35,000 within 30 days of the judgment signed by the court and $40,000 on or before that date in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Preferred Sands also was ordered to pay $5,000 in attorney fees within 30 days of the court order.

Preferred Sands purchased the mine from Winn Bay in December of 2011 and was aware of problems with the sand mine and did attempt to correct those problems.

The DNR officially transferred the permit to Preferred Sands in February of 2012, and company officials were reminded that Preferred Sands was responsible for notifying the DNR if conditions at the site changed.