Mist covers Wyman Creek, part of a watershed that includes forested wetlands sought after by Meteor Timber for developing fracking infrastructure. (Photo by JT Cestkowski)
Mist covers Wyman Creek, part of a watershed that includes forested wetlands sought after by Meteor Timber for developing fracking infrastructure. (Photo by JT Cestkowski)

The ruling is the result of a years-long legal battle against the proposed operation that would have destroyed 16 acres of wetlands.

[UPDATE: On April 13, 2022, the Wisconsin Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal from Meteor Timber, effectively ending the case and the proposed project.]

A fracking operation that would have destroyed wetlands is on hold after a panel of judges ruled Thursday in favor of environmental activists and the Ho-Chunk Nation.

The 16.25 acres of forested wetlands are located near Interstate 94 in Monroe County’s township of Grant. Plans by Meteor Timber would have seen the ecosystem buried beneath a facility designed to ship sand for use in fracking for fossil fuels.

“This is an enormous victory for us,” said Evan Feinauer, an attorney working for Clean Wisconsin, an environmental advocacy organization. “We, as noted, won in the courts below. So this is a continuation of making sure that this wetland stay[s] protected.”

The ruling is in line with two previous decisions issued by lower courts. 

“Wetlands are a really underappreciated and really critical piece of our natural infrastructure from a water quality perspective, from a safety perspective, from a flood mitigation perspective, and from a climate change … perspective,” said Scott Laeser, Clean Wisconsin’s water program director.

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The issue first began to heat up in 2017 when the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) gave its assent to the development, but that was reversed when Clean Wisconsin and the Ho-Chunk Nation filed a lawsuit to stop the development. It’s been mired in the courts ever since.

“We do need to remain vigilant because they could try to appeal again to the state Supreme Court,” said Feinauer. “And you know, we’re not going to stop fighting for Wisconsin’s wetlands, because we know how valuable and imperiled they are.”

Meteor Timber’s Georgia-based parent company, Timberland Investment Resources, did not respond to a request seeking comment about the ruling and whether it would appeal the case yet again.

In justifying spending years fighting for a few acres of bog, Clean Wisconsin attorneys explained their efforts as holding the DNR to a rigorous standard when approving development on wetlands—especially forested wetlands—the destruction of which Clean Wisconsin said would be harder to mitigate through traditional means like building a replacement marsh.

The Ho-Chunk Nation and environmentalists at Clean Wisconsin believe that not every construction project is for the best, arguing instead that sometimes humanity has to act for the benefit of the planet and future generations.

“We understand the need for extracting resources like the fuel we need to drive to work, but we also know that the costs to our community and to this land outweigh any of the benefits,” Rep. Conroy Greendeer, Jr., a legislator serving in the Ho-Chunk Nation’s government, said in a written statement. “This decision validates our commitment to protecting these lands, our natural resources, and our community.”