Yoder Residents Say Tons Of Dust From Sand Operation Is Choking Them Out

The mayor of the southeastern Wyoming town of Yoder said he’s at his wits’ end with a local sand processing plant that’s choking the town out with tons of dust, traffic and noise.

Leo Wolfson

April 13, 202410 min read

Clouds of dust are visible in and around Yoder, Wyoming, much of the day from a sand processing plant.
Clouds of dust are visible in and around Yoder, Wyoming, much of the day from a sand processing plant. (Courtesy Norm Feagler)

Mayor Norm Feagler said he’s exhausted every option he knows to reduce the clouds of airborne sand, dust, traffic and noise caused by a local sand processing facility in Yoder, a southeastern Wyoming town of 131 residents.

“We have basically run into a state of stonewall concerning the noise and dust,” Feagler said.

On some days, resident Danny Sheldon said the haze of silica dust hangs so thick around his house that he can’t see the sun when he steps outside in the morning.

“You can’t see nothing,” he said.

Over the past couple years, Denver-based Western Proppants began ramping up its operations in Yoder, which resident Greg Wallen, 71, said has been “devastating” for the community.

Feagler and other residents are concerned about blow-away sand and dust hanging in the air in the neighborhoods surrounding the facility.

In November 2022, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality sent Western Proppants a notice for violating air quality standards.

A year later, the company signed an agreement with DEQ outlining multiple requirements to minimize the dust, along with paying a $100,000 fine.

Feagler and other locals told Cowboy State Daily the problem has only worsened since.

“It hasn’t improved. I think it’s got a lot worse,” said resident Danny Sheldon, who lives about two blocks from the facility.

On Friday, a spokesperson for DEQ confirmed to Cowboy State Daily that the agency has had ongoing site visits to Western Proppants because of the dust complaints, including “concerns and potential violations” that the agency is investigating.

Bob Dietzler, the vice president of Western Proppants, confirmed that DEQ staff were at his facility Friday.

A truck hauling sand drives through Yoder, Wyoming. It's one of up to 150 a day that haul sand through the town.
A truck hauling sand drives through Yoder, Wyoming. It's one of up to 150 a day that haul sand through the town. (Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily)

Economic Boon?

A father with children, Dietzler has lived in Yoder for more than a decade. Dietzler said his company has done everything in its power to be a good neighbor to the town of Yoder and believes the operation is fully compliant with DEQ and the other six agencies that regulate his business.

After receiving the hefty fine last fall, the company committed to making a number of changes to help reduce its dust output.

“It’s not that I haven’t done it, they’ve said it’s good,” he said about regulators signing off on the company’s efforts.

The company has also recommended to the town to plant trees to further help block the dust, but Feagler said this solution would take years to make an impact.

Dietzler believes most Yoder residents support the business, which he said has made a big economic impact on the local area. The plant employs more than 100 people and will provide significant tax revenue for Goshen County in the coming years as one of its largest private taxpayers.

The benefits aren’t limited to Yoder either, he said. The company employs people from throughout the region and its success is directly tied to other local businesses.

The company mines frac sand in Torrington, which is then trucked 13 miles south to a processing facility in Yoder.

The sand produced is used in hydraulic fracturing operations in the oil and gas industry. When shale deposits are drilled and fractured, the sand is pumped down into the cracks to help keep them open and allow oil and gas to flow to the surface.

“We’re talking about a whole economic driver here,” Dietzler said. “If we want to make an economic impact for Wyoming, we’re going to need sand, oil and gas.”

In many ways, it’s a classic conundrum Wyoming has faced for decades: balancing the economic benefits of energy production with the negative environmental impacts that come with it. A few locals also expressed concerns along this vein when discussing a solar farm that will soon be built in Yoder.

“There’s going to be more issues when they start putting up those solar panels,” Sheldon said.

But Wallen, who lives about 200 yards from the sand processing facility, questions those economic benefits and is convinced that it will lower neighboring home values.

“We couldn’t sell our property if we wanted to,” he said. “There’s no way we could get a fair price if we wanted to.”

Wallen believes the only people who benefit from the company’s presence are those that work for it themselves.

A Changed Town

Yoder is a small town with very limited opportunities for economic growth, which in some ways defines its character.

“It was a clean town, albeit windy,” Mervin Mecklenburg, who has lived in town for 16 years, said about life in Yoder before the plant started.

When he first moved to Yoder eight years ago, Sheldon said he found it a “rural heaven town.”

Now, he struggles with sleeping and breathing at his home. Sheldon said the dust piles up on all outdoor surfaces like his car windshield, but won’t come off with wipers.

“Do they value human life?” he questioned of Western Proppants.

Some have argued that certain people only oppose the facility simply because it represents change in the small town. Sheldon disagrees.

The town was in desperate need for business after a sugar plant closed, and many young people were moving away with no plans to return.

“Everybody thought it would be a good thing,” Sheldon said of the sand operation.

Clouds of dust are visible in and around Yoder, Wyoming, much of the day.
Clouds of dust are visible in and around Yoder, Wyoming, much of the day. (Courtesy Norm Feagler)

Helping In Other Ways

Dietzler also mentioned how the town frequently solicits support letters from his company when applying for state and federal grants, which it always provides.

“Every single grant, they say, ‘We need this because of the growth that’s going to happen on your side of the (railroad) tracks,’” Dietzler said.

Feagler said he has no desire to cause Western Proppants to shut down and believes the business is an economic lifeline for the town. He just wants the company to improve its relationship with the environment and stir up less dust.

“We just want them to operate in a more environmentally friendly manner to the residents of Yoder,” he said.

Dietzler said opposition to his facility is limited to a particular handful of vocal people who aren’t effectively communicating their concerns.

“It makes me sad,” he said. “They waste a lot of time crying wolf.”

Jess Oaks, a Yoder resident and editor at the Torrington Telegram newspaper, sees both sides of the issue. Oaks lives directly west of the facility, which she can see prominently from her bedroom window.

“They’ve made legitimate improvements, so it’s hard for me to say, ‘Damn them,’ but it would be nice if we have some type of environmental protections, for this where we see real environmental concerns,” she said.

Although Oaks said there has been a legitimate increase in silica dust and allergic reactions in the community, she also said Western Proppants has provided a legitimate economic benefit with jobs and the charitable work it does locally.

“Dietzler does a tremendous amount for the local community,” she said.

Dietzler mentioned how during a blizzard last winter, he sent wheel loaders out at the city’s request to help rescue stranded travelers. He also sent every truck Western owned carrying countless loads of dirt when a canal breached in nearby Lingle.

“We didn’t charge anybody anything,” he said.

And no matter how many complaints he gets, Dietzler said he will continue to support the community because he believes it’s the right thing to do.


Dietzler Co., the parent company of Western Proppants, also installed, at its own expense, digital speed signs on both ends of Yoder to warn people driving on the highway who are blasting through a 30 mph speed limit. Dietzler said the Wyoming Department of Transportation wouldn’t pay for these signs.

“If they work with me, they can get these types of things done,” he said.

Feagler and others also have concerns about a mass influx of trucks from the facility speeding down the roads. There’s a busy intersection near the facility he said many trucks coming to and from Western Proppants create blindspots on.

Wallen said the increase in traffic also has impacted the noise level in town, but Mecklenburg, 68, said the noise has improved since the DEQ levied its fine.

Dietzler said his trucks are fully entitled to use the roads, and that he has his staff avoid downtown Yoder whenever possible.

The mayor said shortages to Wyoming Highway Patrol and Goshen County Sheriff’s Office staff have made properly patrolling the roads impossible.

Health Impacts

Sheldon, 69, said he wakes up every morning with heavy mucus in his lungs that he didn’t get before the facility ramped up its production. Wallen said he now suffers from shortness of breath and other side effects.

One morning, Wallen said he and his wife woke up to throbbing headaches. When they opened their eyes, they found their home filled with gas fumes he believes originated from the nearby facility.

Wallen said he now finds it impossible to get a full nights’ sleep because of the noise emanating from the facility in the wee hours of the night, causing vibrations that shake his home.

“We are not able to enjoy the sanctity of our homes,” he said. “We cannot live in peace in or out of our homes.”

Although he believes the business brings money and jobs to the town, Mecklenburg doesn’t think the company genuinely cares about the community.

“They don’t really give a rip about what they’re doing to the town,” he said. “They’re making a lot of money at our expense, which is kind of irritating.”

  • So much dust and dirt is stirred up by sand trucks passing through town that it collects on the roofs of houses in Yoder, Wyoming.
    So much dust and dirt is stirred up by sand trucks passing through town that it collects on the roofs of houses in Yoder, Wyoming. (Courtesy Norm Feagler)
  • A buildup of dust and dirt has settled on this windshield.
    A buildup of dust and dirt has settled on this windshield. (Courtesy Norm Feagler)

What’s Next?

A series of town meetings have been held about the Western Proppants situation, and Wallen brought his concerns to the Goshen County Commission at a meeting last month. Two of the three commissioners were not immediately available to respond to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment, and commissioner chairman Michael McNamee declined to comment.

Feagler sent a letter to Gov. Mark Gordon about the issue last week and another in 2022.

Michael Pearlman, a spokesperson for the governor, confirmed to Cowboy State Daily that Gordon has received both letters.

After getting the 2022 letter, Gordon directed DEQ and WYDOT to investigate the situation. Pearlman referenced the ongoing DEQ investigation, and said Wyoming Highway Patrol will continue efforts to collaborate with the town on a speed enforcement plan and initiate another commercial carrier detail.

Feagler has met with a representative for U.S. Sen. John Barrasso about the issue, who he said told him the problem is a state-level matter. In addition, U.S. Rep. Harriet Hageman and state Rep. Scott Smith, R-Lingle, also attended a public meeting on the issue.

On Monday, the Yoder town council approved a petition that will be sent out with residents’ utility bills asking for Gordon’s assistance in getting the company to improve its dust output.

“It boils down to the governor’s office. The buck stops there and nothing is being done,” Feagler said.

Mecklenburg, an attorney, said the residents of Yoder could have grounds to file a lawsuit.

“Everybody in Yoder has standing and has a cause of action against Dietzler (Co.),” he said. “It’s up to the people if they want to take that up.”

Contact Leo Wolfson at leo@cowboystatedaily.com

Yoder 2 3 29 24
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Leo Wolfson can be reached at leo@cowboystatedaily.com.

Share this article



Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter