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Trout Unlimited, mining company team up for river restoration

Volunteers work in the Trimbelle River to remove tires and other debris as part of the Trimbelle River Highway 10 Park Project.1 / 2
Straw donated by the Hager City sand mine is used to seed and mulch portions of the Trimbelle River banks.2 / 2

While controversy swirls around the mining of silica sand, many of the industry's opponents have negative views of area mining companies.

Conversely, many other people -- including members of a local Trout Unlimited chapter -- are recognizing positive attributes of one company in particular.

Wisconsin Industrial Sand Company, a subsidiary of Fairmount Minerals, operates underground mines in Maiden Rock and Bay City. The facilities mine silica sand, which is often used in a process known as hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) to extract oil and natural gas from underground rock. WISC also operates a processing facility in Hager City.

For the past several years, Fairmount employees and members of Trout Unlimited's Kiap-TU-Wish have come together on environmental projects.

"There are those who have questioned or even criticized us for having this relationship, but they have not taken into consideration all of the facts," Kiap-TU-Wish chapter President Kyle Amundson said. "We don't know what fracking will bring as far as detriments to the environment, but just because Fairmount mines sand (and supplies silica for any number of businesses) does not mean that they are a bad corporation."

Most recently, the two groups spent hours, days, weeks and months cleaning up a 1,000-foot stretch of the Trimbelle River in Pierce County as part of Kiap-TU-Wish's Trimbelle River Highway 10 Park Project.

"They got a really good early start in March just cleaning up brush and cutting down some dead wood and things like that," said Lauren Evans, sustainable development coordinator for Wisconsin Industrial Sand Company.

In addition to contributing volunteer hours, WISC's Hager City facility also donated seed and straw bales to the Trimbelle project, Evans added.

By the end of August, the project was nearing its end as volunteers helped seed and mulch the river banks. The newly restored stretch of the river connects two previous habitat restoration projects that were finished in 2000 and 2007.

"We hope to continue for years with the Trimbelle," Amundson noted.

For its dedication to conservation work, Kiap-TU-Wish recently received the Silver Trout from Trout Unlimited. The award is the second highest of awards given and is earned by only one chapter of TU in the United States each year.

"Fairmount Minerals and its volunteer employees were a big part of the work that this award recognized," Kiap-TU-Wish Vice President Tom Henderson said.

"We're pleased to be a part of this project," Hager City plant manager Jeff Himes said. "This is a great example of returning the land to a condition better than we found it."

As an incentive to get involved in such projects, Fairmount pays its employees to give up to 40 hours of their time each year during regular work shifts.

"That way they know they're not missing out on any paid work time and they can still go and help with projects like this," Evans explained.

However, employees aren't limited to volunteering for environmental projects. They can give their time to nonprofit organizations that help the community in other ways as well.

"Last year, our employees contributed almost 2,500 hours of volunteer work to nonprofit organizations in the communities where our facilities operate," Evans said.

Some took part in programs such as Habitat for Humanity or Adopt-A-Highway while others assisted at area food shelves.

"If every company out there, not just mining companies, acted like Fairmount, we would have very few problems," Amundson said.