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Thirty-six miles south, Guion looks nothing like picturesque Calico Rock, despite the fact that both cities are built on bluffs overlooking the White River. At various times the city has supported a steamboat landing, a newspaper and a golf club manufacturing plant, but now there's nothing but a shoebox-sized post office, churches and sand processing plants. Guion's century-old sand mine was purchased by Belgian-owned Unimin Corp. in 1970.
"When houses are up for sale, Unimin buys them," said a 49-year-old public servant, who grew up in a house 500 feet from Unimin's plants and who wished to remain unidentified. "They knocked down a whole row of houses to build that frac sand plant. The mine built that town, and now it's strangling it." He remembers choking when the wind blew and blasts that rained rocks on cars and houses. He said his parents' cars stayed covered in sand so thick you could write sentences in it.
From 1980 to 1990, Guion's population shrank by half, from 177 to 93, and by 2010 the population had dwindled to 86, with median household income just under $26,000. In the past four years, the mine has expanded three times, including the construction of a 2012 resin coating plant. The public servant appreciates the 108 jobs Unimin provides (52 of which are directly related to frac sand), but the mine cost his grandmother two husbands. Her first husband died of silicosis from mining dust, and his grandfather died in a sand tunnel, bludgeoned by a boulder.
In his living room, he pulls up a Facebook page entitled "If you lived in Guion Arkansas or know someone in Guion." The group has 313 members, dozens of vintage photographs and a single event listing — a March 2012 meeting about a petition to remove the dam on Rocky Bayou, an offshoot of White River known to locals as Guion Creek. This dam spurred the public servant to join the Friends, but his lifelong connection to the mine that still employs his friends and relatives encourages him to keep his membership secret.
ADEQ documents are unclear, but Unimin apparently dammed Guion Creek in 1970 and raised the height of the dam in 1990 to supply water to the plant. The ADEQ has investigated multiple complaints about scum and odors from the now stagnant creek. In 2007, 2008 and 2012, Unimin was cited for permit violations, including unapproved discharges into Rocky Bayou, unprotected storm drains, valves left open and lapsed record-keeping.
"When Unimin dammed up the creek, it reduced the flow to a trickle and the swimming hole dried up. So we want them to take the water from the White River, but the company seems incredibly reluctant to do this," said the public servant. Online comments echo those made at the meeting: "Such a terrible shame the kids there can't enjoy it like we used to," Carol Waters Hutchins posted, under a black and white picture of more than a dozen grinning kids, bunched together on a sandy shore in late-'60s swimwear.
The public servant and his family are planning to move to Batesville. They live in Mount Pleasant, sandwiched between frac sand-mining operation Bluebird Sand and the property now owned by U.S. Silica. "That's going to be another frac sand mine. I bet it'll be as big as Unimin, and no one around here knows anything about it," he said.
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