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Diverse points of view on sand

Fri, Aug 31st, 2012
Posted in All Government

Concerned citizens asked questions and added to the discussion at the August 27 meeting of the Sand Committee. The committee has been meeting at least once monthly since their first meeting in February a couple of weeks before the moratorium on Excavation of Materials and Minerals was put into place on February 28.

Some new faces were in the crowded board room. Many attending would like to see “industrial” sand mining banned in Fillmore County.

Economic Effect of Industrial Sand

Zoning Administrator Chris Graves explained he had not been able to find much information on what economic impact industrial sand mining would have on the county. Bill Swanson, Lanesboro, suggested they start by interviewing business owners as to the impact they expect it could have on them.

Julie Kiehne, Executive Director of the Lanesboro Area Chamber of Commerce, offered some facts saying the tourism industry in the county brought in $18.7 million in gross sales (Mn Dept. of Revenue) in 2010. Also, tourism generated $1.3 million in sales taxes. Kiehne maintained there certainly would be consequences with the coexistence of frac sand and tourism.

Donna Buckbee, Rushford, noted that the scenic highway designation of Hwy 16 has resulted in 500 jobs and $39 million (2008).

Committee member David Williams remarked about the adverse impact that has occurred in the Chippewa Falls and Lake Pepin areas. Committee member Duane Bakke said the model in Arcadia,Trempealeau County, is more relevant. He added that the figures provided for tourism sales don’t differentiate between sales to tourists and sales to local residents.

Bill Swanson insisted Fillmore County is completely different than Arcadia, adding Lanesboro has thriving businesses.

Frank Wright, Lanesboro, reported that there will be a meeting on October 2 at the Earle Brown Heritage Center in Brooklyn Park to discuss the local and regional impact of silica sand mines. There will be information on the assets mining brings along with the adverse effects of concentrated mining activity.

Committee member Brad Erickson suggested using Rushford as a baseline as they have experienced truck traffic. Bakke suggested they get traffic counts for all locations. Swanson opined that Rushford can’t be compared with Lanesboro as the truck traffic doesn’t come right through the downtown.

Harvey Benson, Harmony, remarked that he was 80 years old with no kids, but believed you should leave things as good or better than you found them. He said it is in everyone’s interest to preserve water for the future, which will only grow in value. Benson suggested rather than look at cost, it is more important to look at value.

Chad Nolte, Chatfield, maintained that with all the setback requirements there are not going to be that many mining sites. Graves added setbacks for shoreland, homes, and so on will limit sites. Nolte noted that there are plans for a slurry pipe system (hydraulic pump) from the Pilot Mound site to a proposed rail site near St. Charles. He added there would be no trucks through Lanesboro.

Jeff Lepper, Lanesboro, insisted no one knows what will happen and was in favor of a complete prohibition of industrial sand mining. Swanson insisted the pipeline was just an idea, not a plan, adding our idea and dream is a complete prohibition in Fillmore County.

Charles Ruen, Lanesboro, commented that the county is fortunate to have sand and limestone which have been used to build roads all these years. He suggested some are just trying to frighten people. Ruen said some people subscribe to, “What is mine is mine and what is yours is mine too.”

Williams remarked that the Land Use Plan refers to Ag, recreational, and natural habitats. There is no mention of mining. He added we value our aggregate resources, but are targeting silica sand.

Renee Bergstrom noted she had been a pulmonary function technologist and was concerned about the potential cost of silicosis. She was told that it had already been discussed and they were discussing the economic effects. Retired Dr. David Webb, Lanesboro, insisted it was unrealistic to separate health costs from economic costs. He proposed that mine operators be responsible for silica surveillance. Bakke said workers get tested every year at the site north of Chatfield, along with tests at the property line of the mining site. He added trucks will be covered.

Tara Wetzel, Environmental Manager for Mathy Construction, repeated information about the ongoing monitoring being done in Wisconsin. The regulatory body is the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). A study has been started recently which will go on for a year. The data will be presented to the Wisconsin DNR. She noted there is silica dust in the air from other sources.

Karen Swanson suggested the moratorium be lengthened. Committee member Tom Kaase said their focus was on gathering information and the moratorium will be as long as it needs to be.

A Separation Between Industrial Sand and Construction Aggregate

David Williams explained that the committee didn’t want the more heavily regulated industry of industrial sand to effect the smaller aggregate sites that provide sand, gravel, or crushed stone for construction purposes, ag lime, and livestock bedding. He suggested it will be easy to separate the two. There is a difference in scale between aggregate and industrial sand mining.

There was some discussion on what to do if an operation permitted for construction aggregate morphed into industrial sand. Graves stated that if the focus changed, the operator would have to obtain an industrial sand permit.

Ron Garrison, a geologist from Milestone Materials, suggested there would not likely be many instances where there would be a conversion from aggregate to industrial sand. He added, “If I was looking for ‘frac’ sand, I wouldn’t look in Fillmore County.” He went on to explain that Fillmore County has mostly St. Peter Sandstone which is too fine (except for extracting gas). This finer sand will not be in great demand unless the market for natural gas comes back.

Williams said the more regulated industrial sand will require road maintenance agreements and more of a reclamation plan.

Donna Buckbee complimented the committee on their open format allowing for citizen input. She asked why the county just doesn’t make ‘frac sand’ a prohibited use, if there isn’t good sand in the county. Graves said there is one mine that has been operating since 2008.

Chad Nolte insisted if the natural gas market comes back, there will be a demand for the St. Peter Sandstone. Garrison agreed. Nolte complained that he was hearing a one sided discussion which wasn’t considering the value of the sand to farmers.


MnDot specifications for flocculants were made available. Bakke noted the county would not likely be less restrictive than MnDot, which states “All flocculants need to be environmentally benign, biodegradable and consist of natural origin biopolymers.” Bakke said they are trying to get more information from MPCA.

Williams acknowledged that earlier drafts of the ordinance outright prohibited flocculants. Wetzel said flocculants have a place in some applications. Garrison explained that with flocculants, less water is used, having a smaller pond area while more efficiently removing clay particles.

Williams asked if the use of flocculants should be on a permitted basis. Wetzel suggested they defer to someone at the state level and look at use on a case by case basis. Bakke noted there would be a permit to use from the MPCA. Dale Forrester, Lanesboro, asked who is going to monitor their use.

Paul Leduc asked why not prohibit washing. Bakke explained that sorting at the site will require less road use. The material left after sorting can be used for reclamation. Leduc insisted the effect on the water supply is the bigger unknown.

Frank Wright suggested flocculant use needs to be approved in the CUP process. The volume of water use would have to be weighed against the use of a flocculant.

Rita Leduc maintained we are in a karst area. She asked what would be the harm to be more restrictive and if the technology improves the question can be revisited.

Wetzel said she was cautious about approving all chemicals, adding that polyacrylamide is regulated by the EPA. She added she was concerned about the concentration of the material, but their testing results have not shown an accumulation. Leduc stated the United States EPA set allowable acrylamide levels in drinking water at zero.

Next Meeting

The next meeting will be September 18. Road impact issues will be discussed including Winona County’s language in their road impact agreement. Bakke said an application process needs to be developed and approved. After this meeting, the next part of the process will be before the Planning Commission and finally to the county board which could take at least three to four more months.

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