Frac sand news: Hansen and Schmit bills advance; SEMN permitting; WI project threatens Riverway


While bills related to regulating the frac sand industry make their way through the Minnesota state legislature, sand mining continues to generate headlines in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Minnesota state House and Senate bills

Last night, the Minnesota House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee moved on unanimous voice votes to send HF906 to the House Ways and Means Committee, as well as lay it on the table for possible inclusion in the Omnibus House Environment and Agriculture Finance bill.

With Republicans Denny McNamara (R-Hastings) and Tim Kelly (R-Red Wing) signed on as sponsors–and most objections (other than having a bill at all) from the silica sand industry overcome, the Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul) bill retains its basic shape: technical assistance for local government in permitting and monitoring under the aegis of the Environmental Quality Board (EQB) but no Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) or one-year moratorium.

Listen to the action at the end of the audio here. SF1018, introduced by Senator Matt Schmit (DFL-Red Wing), is the senate companion bill.

Minnesota Public Radio’s Stephanie Hemphill reported on the bills’ earlier progress in Frac sand mining bill clears another hurdle. The Schmit bill was heard in committee but audio has yet to be posted.

Permits move ahead in Fillmore and Winona Counties

The Rochester Post Bulletin reports in Little concern for silica-sand quarry near Highland:

A quarry southeast of Lanesboro that has been extracting silica sand since 2008 with little notice is asking to expand from 18.6 acres to 50 acres.

Reilly Construction Co., of Ossian, Iowa, which operates the mine on the land of Sandra and John Rein near the unincorporated town of Highland, submitted an environmental assessment worksheet on Jan. 10. The public comment period has ended, and Fillmore County is responding to questions and comments, said Zoning Administrator Chris Graves. About a dozen people or governmental agencies commented on the document.


It’s possible the EAW will come before the county board at the end of this month or in early April, he said. If it finds the worksheet meets requirements, the board can approve it and the quarry can apply for a conditional use permit that would allow the expansion.

While similar mines that were proposed for south of St. Charles brought heavy criticism and comment, the Rein mine has been operating without problems, he said. “They have been a really good mine,” he said. . . .

The comments on the Rein proposal centered around many of the same concerns as those commenting on the Saratoga proposals — traffic, health, water pollution and noise.

The Rein worksheet also had comments from people who feared damage to two trout streams — Nepstad and Gribben — because their headwaters are around Highland.

That’s not quite the situation in Winona County, where the small scale of a 20-acre site that will be worked out in three years is meeting little resistance. The Winona Daily News’ Jerome Christenson reports in Commission: EIS not required for Nisbit mine:

If the county board’s willing and the state doesn’t intervene, Winona County’s first new frac sand mine could go into operation this spring.

On a 5-3 vote, the Winona County Planning Commission recommended that the county board not require an Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Nisbit mine.

Mine operator Tom Rowekamp said he was pleased with the vote. “We know people have concerns,” he said, “We’ve done our best to address them. I don’t know what else we could do.”

The proposed 20-acre mine site is located in Saratoga Township outside Utica on land owned by David and Sherry Nisbit. The site lies on the north side of Gethje Lane, a dead-end private road. Current plans call for about 200,000 tons of sand to be removed each year for about three years, at which time the commercially available sand is expected to be exhausted. The mined area will be recovered with topsoil and planted to native prairie. . . .

. . .Three fourths of the dozen or so who spoke at the public hearing favored requiring an EIS for the mine, citing concerns about dust, water quality and increased truck traffic. . . .

Commissioner Jim Hegland said he lived about a mile and a half from the mine site and shared the concerns of the speakers, but “there’s only so much research we can do before we have to do something.” He said the Nisbit mine’s small size and limited prospective lifetime make it a good test case for silica mine regulations in the county.

Much of the opposition to other proposed projects centers either on their massive scale–as in the moribund proposal for a mammoth processing and mining complex in St. Charles–or their location near homes, schools or sensitive natural areas, along with unanswered questions about the industry’s impact.

Wisconsin: Riverway project won’t go away

The Cap Times out of Madison reports in Riverway mine moves closer as Walker boosts frac sand industry:

With Gov. Scott Walker’s new budget including assistance for the sand mining industry, a controversial frac sand operation near the Lower Wisconsin River is moving closer to approval.

The town of Bridgeport Planning Commission has OK’d a conditional use permit for Pattison Sand Co. of Clayton, Iowa, to locate a mine near the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway, setting up a final vote by the Town Board on March 27.

Mine opponents packed the Bridgeport Town Hall for the commission meeting last week but were given little opportunity to speak during the three-hour hearing, according to reports. . . .

“It’s supposed to be ‘For the People and By the People’ but that didn’t happen,” Arnie Steele of Bridgeport Concerned Citizens told the Courier Press in Prairie du Chien.

The group says it will consider legal action but Bridgeport attorney Todd Infield had advised the commission that it couldn’t deny a permit simply based on citizen opposition. Timing may be an issue as well for the town of Bridgeport, with elections scheduled for April 2. The town chairman and two supervisors are facing challenges from mining opponents.

The Riverway Board has urged Pattison to withdraw its application, saying that while the project might meet the letter of the law, the mine would detract from the scenic area and potentially conflict with the federal Highway Beautification Act of 1965.

But Pattison, which could not be reached for comment for this story, has said it will not drop its application.

Last month, the company was cited by the state Department of Natural Resources for violating its air pollution permit at a facility in Prairie du Chien where processed sand is transferred from trucks to rail cars. Pattison says it is taking steps to address those problems and has not been fined

Read the entire story at the Cap Times. And yes, another train went off the tracks, the LaCross Tribune reports in Train carrying sand derails near Hatfield.