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Industrial mining update- Call for statewide moratorium

Fri, Mar 1st, 2013
Posted in All Government

The silica sand mining controversy continues as concerned residents from southeast Minnesota traveled via two buses February 19 to the state capitol to a joint committee hearing, Senate Environment and Energy Policy Committee and the House Committee on Energy Policy. This is indicative of the growing effort to get the state to weigh in on the issue of industrial frac sand mining.

Opponents to industrial mining are requesting a state-imposed moratorium to allow time for an in-depth environmental study of the long-term effects of the industry on southeast Minnesota. They advocate the creation of state-level regulation or state minimum standards to protect the environment and public health. Fillmore County lifted its nine-month moratorium after studying the issue and developing a new Ordinance 736 to specifically regulate industrial mining. Since that time, five applications for industrial mining have been submitted, including the expansion and conversion of the John Rein Quarry to industrial sand mining and four new industrial mine applications for property owners in the Pilot Mound area.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Minnesota Department of Health both have recommended a much more rigorous Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for two Winona County proposed mines citing the need to look at cumulative effects. The two proposed mines would be close to each other and close to the four proposed mines in Pilot Mound Township, Fillmore County.

An EIS will take considerable more time and expense to complete than the relatively uncomplicated Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW). The city of Red Wing recently adopted a resolution on February 11 in support of a state-wide study.

Also in the same general area near St. Charles, there is the proposed location for a large scale sand processing plant by Minnesota Proppant. The probability that this plant will be built is in some question. The city of St. Charles is considering annexing the property located in St. Charles Township where the proposed plant is to be built. There has been resistance to the proposal and considerable opposition to the development of the property for this purpose by the township and concerned residents of the city.

Fillmore County Zoning Administrator Chris Graves noticed on February 21 that the “three proposed frac sand projects in Pilot Mound Township are on hold.” Operator Rick Frick, Minnesota Sands LLC, informed Graves that they are voluntarily planning to complete an EIS instead of an EAW. Since then a fourth property owner in the Pilot Mound area has started the application process. All the Pilot Mound proposed mines and also proposed mines nearby in Houston and Winona Counties are to be developed by Minnesota Sands.

State Hearing

Senator John Marty (DFL-Roseville) suggested in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio prior to the hearing that the state will look at who should regulate the industry. He maintained local governments don’t have the staff to monitor the industry, adding there is a lot of learning to do. The impact the industry will have on the environment and the health of residents in Minnesota communities needs to be studied. He continued insisting we should study the impacts as quickly as possible and protect the interests of the public.

Southeast Minnesota residents attending the hearing asked for an in-depth study to establish standards for permitting. David Williams, Preble Township supervisor, noted mining supporters argue issues can be resolved without involving the state. He insisted, “They’re wrong.”

Mine operators insisted mining businesses have been operated responsibly over a long period of time while providing jobs. Supporters of the industry argue more regulation will be a barrier to increased job production and this opportunity to participate in the “energy revolution.”

Just days after the joint committee hearing Senator Matt Schmit (DFL-Red Wing) introduced a bill calling for a study on February 25. On February 26 that bill was approved by an eight to six vote by the Environment and Energy Committee. The committee had also voted in favor of an additional amendment for a state-wide moratorium until March 1, 2014, on new industrial sand mines. Schmit’s bill includes a requirement for a generic Environmental Impact Statement. The Senate bill goes next to the Senate State and Local Government Committee. A companion bill that doesn’t call for the moratorium and is not as far reaching has not yet been heard by a House committee. Rep. Rick Hanson (DFL-South St. Paul) introduced the House bill.

Rein EAW

The EAW thirty calendar day comment period for the existing Rein Quarry, Highland, ended February 20. Reilly Construction operates the mine in Section 35, Holt Township. Reilly Construction, Inc. applied for a permit to expand the existing mine to 50 acres and to convert it to an industrial silica sand mine. The mine would then be regulated under Fillmore County zoning ordinance 736, rather 721.

Comments and questions concerning the EAW were submitted from Fillmore County residents Paul and Rita Leduc, Dale Forster, David Williams, Bonita Underbakke, Karen Swanson, Roy House, Donna Buckbee, Beth Hennessy, and Loni Kemp.

The Leduc’s expressed concerns about the probable presence of sinkholes and the existence of springs that feed Nepstad Creek (a trout stream). Williams objected to the proposed alternate hauling route to New Albin, Iowa. He was most concerned about the use of CR 12 and the bridge over the South Fork Root River in Preble Township, which is a “prime angling recreational area.” He points to the fact Allamakee County has a moratorium in effect.

Forster, Swanson, Buckbee, Hennessy, and Kemp call for an EIS to study the long-term environmental effects that are not dealt with in the EAW. Underbakke also calls for an EIS citing questions about cumulative environmental impacts affecting water quality, air quality and associated health risks. Buckbee expresses concerns over the potential for lost property values. House notes many of the same concerns for nearby creeks, ground water, and health concerns that need to be addressed for a mine that could operate for twenty years. Forster insists the EIS should be filed “after the state of Minnesota has put into place stringent standards to govern air monitoring.”

MnDot lists its proposed construction projects for 2013 that could be impacted by trucks hauling sand. Houston County weighed in on the possible use of their county roads. The county currently has a moratorium in place, which is expected to be extended up to one year. They also point to stormwater run-off impacts that could affect the Root River, the South Fork Root River, and groundwater.

Ric Zarwell, President of the Allamakee County Protectors, objected to the planned hauling route, stating that two portions of the route would be on county highways, not state highways. They point to the fact that the destination, the processing plant at New Albin, Iowa has only been proposed. The Allamakee County Board of Supervisors has placed a moratorium on silica sand mining and processing in Allamakee County as of February 4, 2013. Similar comments were provided by Allamakee County Zoning Administrator Thomas Blake.

Comments from the Minnesota Department of Health concerned ground water quality, air quality, truck traffic, and a health assessment impact. It was recommended that the reclamation plans be revised, wells be monitored, and an initial baseline sampling be completed of nearby wells.

Both the Minnesota DNR and the MPCA commented. The MPCA suggested there was a need for additional information and detail to evaluate potential cumulative effects citing other mining projects in Winona and Fillmore Counties.

It should be noted that most all of the comments concerning the hauling route or destination were on the route to New Albin, Iowa, which is a secondary destination. Currently, the destination for product from the existing mine is Winona.

All comments can be reviewed in their entirety at Click on Departments, Zoning, and EAWs. Graves said the zoning office will type up answers and get them back in the near future.

The EAW summary suggested there would not be a detrimental effect on nearby Grebbin and Nepstad Creeks, including quality, quantity, and temperature. No hazardous materials will be introduced to pollute ground water. Admittedly, there will be an increased probability of sinkholes with the removal of most of the St. Peter Sandstone. But, it was suggested that measures can be taken to minimize sinkhole formations. Pavement impact fees will be assessed to offset wear of roads. At present, mining and transport of materials have not been shown to be a public health concern. Known health effects from airborne silica have been shown in settings where exposure is concentrated.

Next Step

An EAW is prepared to determine whether an EIS is necessary. Fillmore County is the responsible government unit (RGU) concerning the Rein Quarry. After the zoning office responds to comments and questions, the county board has to make a declaration that an EIS is or is not required.

Board of Adjustment

The Board of Adjustment met for the first time in 2013 on February 21. Gary Ruskell was elected chairman and Brad Erickson was elected Vice-chairman. Meetings will continue to be scheduled at 7:00 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month.

The board granted the request from Larry and Margaret Miller for a 40-foot variance to construct a replacement shop/office nearer to the center line of the road than county zoning ordinance Section 604.05 (2) (b) allows. The ordinance requires a 73-foot setback from the center of the road. The property is located in Section 35, Canton Township and is zoned Ag. Larry Miller said the old building will be removed to build the new 60-foot by 80-foot building. He added that the township was OK with the variance.

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