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Southeast Minnesota citizens file state court brief in appeal of newly-opened Nisbit Frac Sand Mine

Fri, Nov 1st, 2013
Posted in All Government

WINONA, Minn. – Local citizens appealing the Winona County Board’s decisions on the Nisbit Frac Sand Mine filed their legal brief last week with the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Twelve citizens joined together this spring to contest the County Board’s 3-2 decision in April to not require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the mine. They also contest the County Board’s 3-2 decision in June to grant the Nisbit mine a conditional use permit. The appellants’ brief concludes that the three board members voting in the majority on both decisions acted “in disregard of clearly identified legal requirements under well established Minnesota law repeatedly presented in considerable detail.”

The brief calls on the Court of Appeals to require the Winona County Board to order an EIS on the mine and to vacate the mine’s permit until the EIS is completed, because the board’s earlier decisions “resulted from an error of law and lacked substantial evidence on important issues.” An EIS is a much more comprehensive form of environmental review than the short Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) which has been completed on the mine.

“The County Board majority really got ahead of itself in permitting this mine without ordering an EIS,” said Margaret Walsh, a Winona resident and one of the appellants. “For more than two years, people have been raising concerns about the Nisbit mine, including air and water quality, traffic safety and road impacts. We’re concerned about the mine’s effects on community health and the quality of life for residents living near the frac sand mine and along its haul route to the processing facility in Winona. We’re hopeful that the Court of Appeals will reverse the Board’s decisions.”

The Nisbit mine has recently begun operations and, according to local media reports, will supply sand to the dairy industry. However, the permit granted by the County Board in June allows the mine to sell frac sand, used by the oil and gas industry for hydraulic fracturing, at a rate of up to 140 semi-truck loads per day. According to the mine’s EAW, these trucks will pass along a 20-mile route that goes through Utica, and then through Lewiston and Stockton on U.S. Hwy. 14 before dumping the sand at the Hemker/Bronk processing facility across from Saint Mary’s University on Old Goodview Road in Winona.

The Nisbit mine is one of at least seven frac sand mines proposed in an approximately five-mile by two-mile area in Winona County and neighboring Fillmore County. Citizens and state agencies, including the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, have repeatedly called for the cumulative impacts of this mining activity and the associated frac sand processing and transportation to be examined before any permitting decisions are made.

The appellants have retained land use attorney Jim Peters of Glenwood, Minn., to represent them. A decision from the Court of Appeals is expected by April 2014. More than 30 local residents have provided the financial support needed for these legal actions.

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