On March 21 in Izard County Circuit Court, Bluebird Sand and ADEQ entered into a Consent Judgement, settling a water pollution complaint against the company.
Under the judgement, Bluebird Sand agreed to pay a $125,000 fine.
Bluebird Sand was cited for twice discharging wastewater into East Lafferty Creek, adding muddy sediment to the creek on Nov. 15, 2010 and killing at least 59 fish in a second release on Dec. 5, 2010.
A December ADEQ complaint indicated a wastewater holding pond overflowed, allowing wastewater to enter the creek.
Bluebird Sand uses large quantities of water to mine silica sand, a type of sand used by companies in the oil and natural gas industries.
When the company obtained permits to operate, it indicated it did not intend to discharge into the stream and did not seek a pollutant discharge permit.
After the discharges, Bluebird Sand voluntarily shut down operations until it could install equipment to remove particles of clay from wastewater generated by its operation.
Bluebird Sand later resumed business, only to be forced to shut down again in February, after ADEQ filed a new complaint, alleging the company was operating a sand dryer without a proper air quality permit.
Company President Tony Stewart did not return calls from The News but, on March 23, an employee did confirm the mine was "running again."
As part of the settlement with the state, Bluebird Sand is seeking the permits it needs to legally discharge into the water and air.
The company must document it is removing sediment from wastewater and cannot use the sediment pond until it has the proper permits.
ADEQ originally sought a $250,000 fine for the stream pollution violations, but the agency's director believes a fair settlement has been reached.
"We're glad to get sufficient penalties to address the violations ... and appropriate environment protection measures ... without affecting the jobs that are so desperately needed in that area," said Teresa Marks.
Residents who reported the Bluebird Sand discharges are hopeful the company will now follow regulations, but they promise to keep watch.
"If they want to operate, fine, but to use the creek as their dumping ground, it's not going to happen," said Dave Malland, who lives near the creek.
Malland says "a couple of good rains" have helped clear the creek of sediment from Bluebird releases. He can now see the bottom of the creek and minnows have returned, since the December fish kill.
"But we still hope for hearings on the new permits," said Malland.
Malland and others, including the Friends of the North Fork and White River environmental group, have requested a chance to speak at public hearings. However, ADEQ has not decided whether public hearings are necessary as the company goes through the permitting process.
Bluebird Sand employs about 45 people, offering above average wages and benefits, as well as purchasing fuel and supplies in the area and paying taxes.
Employees expressed frustration at twice being laid off without pay during shut downs, and were fearful the company would close because of its ongoing problems with the state environmental agency.
The Friends of North Fork and Spring River Web site indicates 10 percent of Izard County has potentially minable sand, located in a band running from Guion to Calico Rock.
Because of the potential for the area to become a center for silica mining, the organization is working to ensure regulations are in place to protect rivers and streams and the important tourism industry centered around river recreation.
Besides the two sand mines currently in operation, a third, Patriot Investments in Guion, intends to open by fall and a proposed mine near Calico Rock, to be operated by Evergreen Processing, is now going through the permitting process.