Eau Claire County (Augusta) - A new, mile-long conveyor in Augusta looks like a makeshift roller coaster ride. The only thing getting on it is sand.
Hi-Crush opened its frac sand mining facility in Augusta a few months ago. On Tuesday, the company gave WQOW News 18 a tour.
Hi-Crush has about 1,000 acres of land to mine which will take about 30 years. "Our mining, our wet plant, our dry plant, and our shipping of the sand, which is via rail, is all on site, so there is no trucking of any sand in or out of the facility," said Hi-Crush Vice President Chad McEver.
The string that ties it together is a mile-long conveyor. "That connects our mining and wet plant area to our dry plant and load out facility," said McEver. The conveyor is enclosed to keep sand from blowing and runs 24 hours a day. "We have a maintenance crew that all they do is take care of the conveyor itself. You want to take very good care of it because if it goes down, than it shuts down the whole process and we can't have that," said McEver.
The wet plant recently closed for winter. The dry plant runs all year long. Currently, Hi-Crush has 40 full-time employees and 15 contracted excavators. The company plans to hire 15 more people this spring when the wet plant starts operating again.
One concern citizens have about frac sand mining is the dust from blowing sand. A WQOW News 18 reporter saw sand blowing at the Hi-Crush site Tuesday and was told that was unique because of the winds, which were at least 15 miles per hour. WQOW News 18 also spoke to a number of area landowners. They said they don't believe dust has been a factor. "One thing I've noticed is that everyday, if not every other day, they'll sweep up after themselves. They keep the streets clean. I don't see where anybody could complain about anything on that order," said Donald Berry from Augusta.
Others have concerns. Last month, the Augusta School Board approved a non-binding resolution which opposes future frac sand mining or processing within five miles of school buildings. Earlier in the year, Hi-Crush donated $25,000 to the school district to help repair and replace district school buses.