State budget is helping beef up how DNR monitors frac sand - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

State budget is helping beef up how DNR monitors frac sand

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Western Wisconsin (WQOW) - The demand for a natural resource put a strain on the DNR's own resources.  But the state budget is helping the agency beef up how it monitors the frac sand industry.  Two new hires will help give some relief.

Along with the sand demand comes a list of complaints. "Probably a handful each month...The majority of the complaints we receive deal with dust or sand blowing from the site or vehicles that are leaving the plants," explains Jeffery Johnson, an Environmental Engineering Supervisor, for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.  

That's where Tanner Connors, an Air Management Engineer for the DNR, and new addition, comes in.  "It's a very hot topic right now and it's just very interesting to me," explains Connors.  

Connors is one of two new hires and will be at the Eau Claire post. He'll be in charge of overseeing Clark, Eau Claire, Jackson, Trempealeau and Wood counties.

Johnson says, "With the two people previously there was too much work to do, they could really only handle half the sources in the area and really only focus on compliance. They weren't really able to get out responding to complaints."

Doubling its air management engineering staff will allow the DNR to have more of a physical presence at frac sand facilities.  "We've had a back log of complaints, that we would just log and then as time would allow, we may get someone out there." But sometimes, they did not, according to Johnson, because of staffing.

Connors says, "Since I've been training here, I've been out on site inspections with our senior level staff, our compliance team, and basically just touring facilities and inspecting them."

For now, Connors job will specifically focus on making sure facilities are in compliance with air quality regulations. "Initially we'll be looking at just the air but hopefully we get them trained on the water side as well, so they'll be able to identify water issues and bring them back to those program people here at the department," explains Johnson.  

The DNR says if it comes across an issue, it works with the company to get things corrected.

Connor says, "There is quite a bit to learn, there are a lot of codes and references but it is good that I'll be focused in on the frac sand industry and I'll be able to get a really good grasp on that eventually. To be able to help the public and the environment and the public in Wisconsin is a great opportunity."

The new staffing was approved as part of the most recent state budget. There is one other new hire, that staff member is based out of La Crosse.  So now, there are a total of four air management engineers, the other two are located in Baldwin and Cumberland.

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