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WESTERN WISCONSIN NEWS ROUND-UP: Sand mine company fined $200,000 by state

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MADISON - For the first time, a frac-sand mining company in western Wisconsin is paying a large fine for causing pollution.  The state Justice Department said yesterday that Preferred Sands of Pennsylvania will pay $200,000 for causing mud to flow into a stream and neighboring properties at Blair in Trempealeau County.  

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Officials said three heavy rainstorms in 2012 caused sediment to flow from the mining site onto four properties -- including the first floor of a house -- and it dumped up to six-inches of mud into a stream and a wetland.  Preferred Sands bought the Blair mine in late 2011.  The firm said it recognized non-compliance issues right away, and it tried resolving the problems before discovering they were more complex than originally thought.  The Justice Department said the firm did not tell the whole story to the state DNR -- including waste on slopes that was never stabilized correctly.  About 115 frac-sand mines have popped up in Wisconsin in recent years, producing fine sand for domestic oil exploration equipment.  Critics have complained about environmental problems with mines -- and until recently, they cited a lack of enforcement efforts.  Since August, the DNR said it referred three frac-sand violation cases to the Justice Department for prosecution.  As of this summer, the state has issued 20 violation notices to 19 companies.

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A man killed by a Neillsville police officer last Friday has been identified as 23-year-old Ricky Taylor.  Officer Aaron Bembnister responded to a domestic disturbance at a home in Neillsville early last Friday morning.  Officials said Taylor was carrying a knife when the officer confronted him -- and Taylor was shot after he approached the officer and ignored numerous requests to drop the knife.  Taylor died later at a Marshfield hospital.  The 24-year-old Bembnister is on administrative leave while the incident remains under investigation by the state Justice Department and Clark County sheriff's deputies.

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A western Wisconsin couple has lost a court battle, as they tried to stop a tourist group from running railroad cars near their home.  Robert and Helen Kees of rural Durand filed suit in 2009 to prevent Xcel Energy from fixing a set of railroad tracks, so the Chippewa Valley Motor Car Association can run annual trips with classic rail cars.  The trips were halted by a restraining order after the suit was filed.  They go along a 14-mile stretch from Durand southward to the Tiffany Wildlife Area.  A circuit judge and a state appeals court ruled against the Kees', saying they didn't legally didn't own the property in question.  The state Supreme Court recently said it would not take the case, it sent it back to the appellate court.  Helen Kees tells the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram she'll appeal to a federal court if necessary.  She said the couple has deeds proving they own the land where the tracks run -- and she's against the tourist trips, saying quote, "I'm not willing to leave the next generation to a circus."  The car group says it will prevail, but it might have to wait to get the trains going.  The group obtained a lease agreement 18 years ago to use the tracks.  It says Xcel Energy plans to work with affected landowners on doing the necessary rail repairs.

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