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A View From The Woods

By Loni Kemp

Fri, Apr 26th, 2013
Posted in All Columnists

Let the Sand Mining Begin, Says County

It was just sixteen months ago when this column first broke the news locally about frac sand mining coming to Lake Wobegon—namely, Fillmore County. Two mine proposals had already been put forth, and we could see a frenzy of mine development in Wisconsin and mine proposals all over southeast Minnesota. This was not our ordinary gravel or sand pit, it was industrial mining for the national juggernaut of gas and oil fracking.

Over the next year, citizens educated and organized, and the County Commissioners responded, first with a moratorium on sand mine development, and then with passage of a new industrial sand mining ordinance. While the new regulations set important limits on size and number of mines, and prohibited sand processing to reduce the threat of water extraction and pollution, many citizens pointed out that the ordinance punted on other important issues. Silica air pollution, karst implications and tourism impacts were omitted. With the moratorium called off, the doors were open for up to five mines in the county.

Last week the first industrial sand mine came up for a crucial decision, and the Commissioners blinked.

The Rein Quarry on County 12 near Highland asked to expand to 50 acres, the maximum the new ordinance allows. An environmental assessment was triggered, and many comments were submitted about shortcomings in the research and lack of protections.

The Commissioners nevertheless decided to approve the assessment on April 23 without ordering an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). They will soon issue a conditional use permit for the mine.

The same Commissioners must have sensed they were out of their depth when in late February they requested that the state take over and do an EIS on four mines in the Pilot Mound area, along with other mines and processing facilities proposed by Minnesota Sands in Houston and Winona Counties. The group EIS approach was taken over by the Environmental Quality Board.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), which reviewed the Rein environmental assessment and specifically asked the county for further evaluation and studies, then recommended to the County that the Rein Quarry project should also be evaluated in the group EIS. Since it is located in the same geographic region and ecosystem, MPCA felt the EIS should analyze the cumulative potential effects of all of the projects, and many local citizens agreed. Nevertheless, at the April 23rd meeting the Commissioners declined to do any EIS, either singly or in a group, on this mine.

What is missing is a study of the Rein site’s karst characteristics, such as dye trace tests to find out where underground passageways exist and baseline monitoring of neighboring water wells to determine future groundwater impacts. Nor does the Rein assessment include plans for monitoring of air pollution, to check for microscopic crystalline silica particles which easily blow in the wind and are a common occupational cause of silicosis and cancer for those who work with crushed rock or sand. Disposable paper dust masks will not protect people from dangerous silica dust. A dust control plan is promised, but no one knows what methods will be used or if it will protect workers and neighbors, since there will be no monitoring.

Recently we were reminded that even well-regulated development can fail‚ as happened in Canton township when a huge dairy waste pit wall completely flattened, releasing quantities of untreated manure into creeks and rivers flowing toward the Mississippi, and possibly into groundwater. Even now, the cleanup involves spreading volumes of manure on disconcertingly wet soils during the spring rainy season. It is upsetting that this utter failure of pollution control could take place. The cause of the wall collapse has not yet been pinpointed.

Somehow the manure spill, the Boston Marathon killings, unending cold weather and denial of the Rein EIS made for a very depressing week.

We are left to hope that stringent conditions will be put on the Rein permit, and that excellent performance by the operators will be kept up for years to come. Fillmore county officials blinked and let the first industrial sand mine go through without full study of impacts and mitigation alternatives. At least we know the next wave of industrial mine proposals will not get off so easily, as the state will do a full EIS.

Sand Tarts

1 stick butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 egg, plus one yolk

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp finely grated lemon zest

2 1/2 cups flour

1/4 tsp salt

1 egg white plus 1 tsp water

Sliced almonds and cinnamon-sugar to decorate

Cream butter until fluffy. Gradually add sugar and beat until light colored. Beat in the egg and yolk, vanilla and zest. Add flour and salt and mix on low until dough just comes together. Wrap and chill for several hours. Roll out dough to 1/8 inch thick and cut 3 inch circles with cookie cutter or a glass. Place on ungreased baking sheet and brush each with egg white plus water mixture, decorate with sliced almonds radiating out from center, and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes until golden brown.

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