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Reps of Mathy Construction contribute to sand discussion

Fri, Aug 17th, 2012
Posted in All Government

The Sand Committee met again on August 10 with most members of the Planning Commission in attendance. The board room was again crowded with concerned citizens, including owners of property with potential for mining, mine operators, and citizens worried about the possible negative effects of what is expected to be a fast-growing industry in the area. Three representatives of Mathy Construction added to the discussion. The sand committee was formed after the mortatorium was put into place late in February.

The most discussed issue was the use of flocculants or chemicals in the washing process. Under the most recent draft for the proposed changes to ordinance 721 Excavation and Mining of Materials and Minerals, the use of chemicals, flocculants, or additives for processing mined materials is listed under Prohibited Activity.

Steve Beach, a geologist and manager of Milestone Materials (a division of Mathy Construction), insisted that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) governs the use of flocculants. Presently, Mathy is not using them in Fillmore County. He explained that polyacrylamide is a polymer, a dry granular product which is injected with the final washwater. The fine clay particles cling to the flocculant, allowing them to be handled with manual mining equipment.

Tara Wetzel, manager of environmental operations at Mathy, noted she has contributed to the drafting of other ordinances. She explained that the MPCA would need to issue a permit to do washing and the agency would need to approve the use of a flocculant. Wetzel noted that polyacrylamide is used as a cleaning agent in the treatment of drinking water; it is also used as a soil conditioner for erosion control.

Wetzel said they have monitored air quality for silica since 1997, and that in the mine sites located in the upper Midwest silica is not a problem for employees. Currently, there is no standard for silica in the air.

Wetzel suggested a separation would be helpful between “industrial sand” which has a high purity of silica and “construction aggregate” which is sand, gravel or crushed stone used for local construction projects. She admitted that the mining techniques could be similar, but there are differences in the processing of the product.

Discussion on Flocculants

Committee member David Williams argued that it would be best to outright ban the use of flocculants, as some are toxic. He added that the ban could be a deterrent for establishing large scale mining.

Wetzel agreed that a blanket approval of flocculants would not be a good idea. However, in the processing of aggregate, flocculants are sometime necessary. She insisted that polyaccrilamite is an “inert” substance. She noted that acrylamide, which is unpolymerized, is the chemical of concern.

Rita Leduc said the subunits that form the polymer are very toxic. She insisted there is always some acrylamide (a neurotoxin) in the final product. Leduc said there are ongoing toxicity studies of water supplies. She noted that polyacrylamide is also used by some sewage treatment plants.

Wetzel remarked that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has zero tolerance for acrylamide in drinking water. Williams remarked that state agencies are weak on enforcement, saying it is the role of the local government for tough enforcement. Wetzel disagreed. Paul Leduc worried that we could be “putting the water supply at grave risk.”

County Attorney Brett Corson said there is a consensus of the committee to avoid large industrial operations. He added that the county does not have the expertise to monitor the use of chemicals. He questioned whether the county can rely on the MPCA.

Wetzel maintained there are chemicals that the MPCA would ban for use as a flocculant. Commissioner Duane Bakke commented that we are not sure what is being used today; water only, or if flocculants are being used.

Wetzel suggested they write into the ordinance that if an operation wants to use chemicals, they must be approved by the MPCA. Beach warned that if flocculants are banned, it may be necessary to import some aggregate materials for construction.

County Engineer John Grindeland noted that the use of flocculants in the washing process allows the recycling of the water for processing, using less water.

Wetzel admitted that the test for polyaccrilamite is expensive and unreliable. She insisted that the ponds were self sealing, wouldn’t contaminate the water supply, and allow the reuse of the water. Wetzel said the accumulation on the bottom of the ponds had been tested with no difference between that sample and a control sample.

Beach opined that it is important not to put regulations into the ordinance that will shut down crushing operations. He said water appropriation is already governed by the MPCA. Beach also was concerned about the potential size limitation of 80 acres. He insisted a permit can be canceled if an operator is not doing a good job. Bakke said a size limitation will help keep out the large industrial operations.


Since the last meeting, Zoning Administrator Chris Graves, Engineer John Grindeland, and Attorney Brett Corson met and discussed bonding issues and other options to pay for possible damages to the roads. The two issues were how to collect funds and how to prove damage.

Their suggestion was for a bond requirement of $150,000 per mile on blacktop roads that are on a designated haul route and $25,000 per mile on gravel roads that are on a designated haul route.

Grindeland explained if the trucks hauling the sand were within legal limits they should cause no more damage to the roads than anything else, but the volume would make the difference.

Grindeland said it will cost at least $1 million to construct one mile of county road. He noted that the county does a video log of the roads every four years and it is scheduled to be done in 2013. Logs were made in 2005 and 2009. The state also does a traffic count in the same years.

Grindeland described a Falling Weight Deflectometer (FWD) strength test that could be done on a road to be used on a sand transport route to establish a baseline on an annual basis. Both lanes could be tested to demonstrate the difference between loaded and unloaded hauls. He said the road would be tested both where it was being used on a designated hauling route and where it is not designated for a haul route for the control. Grindeland maintained that this test will show road stress before it can be seen on the surface. Dust control would also be required on gravel roads.

Larry Thompson, Reilly Construction, said he didn’t think bonding agencies would be willing to write a bond for road damage. Ron Garrison, geologist with Milestone Materials, noted they had checked with a bonding company and found that they were very hesitant to write that kind of bond.

Corson warned that the county has to be careful that they aren’t “arbitrary and capricious” in singling out sand trucks. Bakke maintained the concern with sand trucks is the fact that they will be delivering to a specific location and using a specific route. This is unlike other aggregate hauling which may go to numerous locations. Corson said they would have to have that rationale to defend it in court and the county would have to pay to defend it. Bakke remarked that their ordinances haven’t been challenged in maybe 20 years.

Thompson suggested if it is determined what it will cost us for road use, it can be worked into the delivery price. However, he felt the cost should be so much per ton on a road regardless of the cargo. Thompson said the bonding company only guarantees we will pay by looking at our capacity to pay. He insisted bonding won’t work. Wetzel suggested a road maintenance agreement be part of a CUP. Grindeland repeated that a basis is necessary to determine if damage is being done.


Bakke and Williams have been working on language for blasting. Williams listed several points including complying with state and federal statutes, licensing, a pre-blasting survey within one half mile of a site, blasting notification, control of adverse effects, authority for the Zoning Office to investigate complaints as related to permitting, the maintenance of a blasting log, and no storage of blasting materials on site. Beach maintained that blasting damages are rare.

Other Discussion

Beach was concerned about language in the ordinance draft that wouldn’t allow mining vertically closer than a depth of 10 feet to an existing ground water table or in the shoreland or floodplain district. He insisted these areas are where you find your best sand and gravel. Williams objected, saying our priority isn’t to protect mining operators. Wetzel said it is very common to mine in the water table. Beach argued it is a benefit to the community to fill our customers needs.

Bakke remarked that Big Springs quarry probably would not have been allowed into the spring if it was permitted today. Beach again said that this may require importing of aggregate for the roads in the county. Bakke said there will be a conversation with the DNR about this language.

Wetzel argued that taking aggregate out of the flood way and flood fringe will create more places for the flood water to go and provide flood relief. She insisted the state is already well regulated in the water arena. Donna Rasmussen, SWCD, said they need to investigate the effects on water temperature and trout streams.

Bakke commented that they need to come up with a balance between economic activity, environment, and property rights.

Lanesboro Request

The city of Lanesboro requested by letter that the economic impact from sand mining be studied, including the economic impact and effect in Lanesboro on 115 small businesses, property values, and the tax base and financial impact on budgets for the city and county.

Bakke read the letter and said they will look into the request later on. Bakke assured them that it was very unlikely that sand trucks would go through Lanesboro on Highway 250.

Next Meeting

The next meeting is scheduled for August 27 in the board room at 9:00 a.m.

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