Minnesota voices rising for full-scale state GEIS for industrial scale frac sand mining

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Between the unprecedented call by state agencies for Winona County to draft a frac sand EAW and outrage over the hiring of Red Wing Mayor Dennis Egan to lobby for the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council (MISC), momentum is growing for state-level action on the problems posed by the growth of industrial-scale sand mining.

Conservation Minnesota’s John Helland writes in Frac Sand Mining Deserves State Regulation:

The headline in the Star/Tribune that the Mayor of Red Wing is going to work for the frac sand mining industry was a revelation.  Red Wing is near the heart of the frac sand mining proposals that are popping up in the hills and valleys of southeastern Minnesota.

The mayor, Dennis Egan, will be lobbying at the legislature for an industry sand council heavily involved in frac sand mining.  Whether this might be a conflict of interest, for a local official to work for an industry that is seeking local government permits, is being looked at by the Red Wing City Council.

This revelation came on the heels of another in the same newspaper over the weekend that shows the frac sand industry uses it’s money and promises of jobs to get some local jurisdictions with tough regulations to get annexed by jurisdictions more favorable to allow lax restrictions on frac sand mining.  So a local sand mining ordinance that restricted hours of operation, required air monitoring and inhibited location of a mine from nearby residences, might see these regulations loosened when annexed to an adjacent community. . . .

Read the rest at Conservation Minnesota.  The non-profit environmental group’s boards engage a range of the state leaders from across the political spectrum; Bluestem is pleased to see it pay attention to frac sand mining.

Reaction to the Mayor of Fracsandville’s boundary issues are reaching an audience beyond Minnesota via FireDogLake. Phoenix Woman writes in Big Pushback Against Frac Sand (and Lobbyist Mayor) in Minnesota:

The actual act of fracking isn’t the only controversial part of the fracking process. Mining the sand needed for fracking has its own problems, as Red Wing, Minnesota mayor and frac sand mining lobbyist Dennis Egan is discovering.

Many people were outraged at the gross conflict of interest embodied in Egan’s stances. . . . instead of immediately and publicly expressing their outrage, they quietly prepared for much more effective action . . .

The post links to pages and pages of citizen complaint prepared for Monday’s City Council meeting in Red Wing.

Since Land Stewardship Project maintains an office in Southeast Minnesota to work with area farmers, farm workers, and local food consumers, it had skin in the game early on. In Great Minds Think Alike on Mines: Comments Call for an EIS on Frac Sand, Johanna Rupprecht looks over the developments in Winona County:

Public comments submitted as part of the environmental review process for two proposed frac sand mines in Winona County overwhelmingly call for officials there to follow the law and order an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

Land Stewardship Project members, other local citizens, state agencies and scientific experts submitted a total of about 75 comments on each mine. The comments pointed out the many serious inadequacies in the Environmental Assessment Worksheets (EAWs) prepared on the proposed Yoder and Dabelstein mines, and called for the much more in-depth EIS, which must be ordered if the EAW process shows a project to have the potential for significant environmental impacts.

An EIS fully analyzes all aspects of a proposed project and explores alternatives that would prevent or mitigate major environmental harm, including not building the project. Under state law, no permit for the project could be issued while an EIS is in progress, and the costs of the EIS must be covered by the project proposer.

Many comments, including those submitted by the commissioners of theMinnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), point out that the two mines are in fact part of a much larger project which triggers a mandatory EIS. Both agencies’ letters note that the Yoder and Dabelstein mines in Saratoga Township, together with the several other mines proposed by the same company (Minnesota Sands, LLC, also doing business as Minnesota Proppant, LLC) in the immediate area, would total well over the 160-acre threshold for a mandatory EIS on non-metallic mineral mining projects.

As both the Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio News have reported, the commissioners also call for proposed frac sand processing activities to be examined in the same EIS as part of the same project. This would include Minnesota Proppant’s plant proposed near St. Charles, which, if built, would be the largest frac sand processing and rail transport facility in North America.

Read the rest at LSP’s site. Objections to expansion of industrial-scale sand mining aren’t confined to the Mississippi River corridor. Lynn and Darla Austin tell the editors of the Mankato Free Press in Silica sand plant not good for Mankato:

They want to build a 14-story silica sand (frac sand) processing plant north on Third Avenue, 1 1⁄2 miles from Highway 14. . . .

Mankato and the surrounding area are listed in the Top 100 Places to Live in the United States. We feel building a plant like this within two miles of Mankato — or worse, having the city annex them — would be a detriment to the health of our citizens and future families looking for a place to live.

The plant would be located in a valley which is known for swirling winds. They are proposing having outside stock piles up to 70 feet tall. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that sand is going to blow. . . .

Google “silica sand mining or processing plants in Minnesota or Wisconsin.” It will chill you to the bone.

When one plant is permitted in an area they are like dandelions, you’ll never get rid of them . . .

We don’t believe it’s an equitable tradeoff for our environment and the loss of its neighbors’ quality of life.

Read the entire letter at the Free Press.

Finally, Minnesota Representative Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul), Greg Davids (R-Preston) and Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis) have introduced HF 425, filed under the description “Scientific and natural area and wellhead easement protection area acquisition funding provided, bonds issued, and money appropriated.”

That doesn’t tell the incurious public that it’s a bill related to frac sand mining. The text of the bill (references to mining in italics):

1.6    Section 1. RESOURCE PROTECTION IN SILICA SAND MINING AREAS.
1.7    Subdivision 1. Scientific and natural areas. $……. is appropriated from the bond 
1.8proceeds fund to the commissioner of natural resources to acquire land or interests in land 
1.9as scientific and natural areas under Minnesota Statutes, section 84.033, in the areas 
1.10of the state with industrial silica sand resources likely to be mined, as identified by the 
1.11commissioner, in order to protect unique hydrological features, including calcareous 
1.12fens, springs, and trout streams; endangered or threatened species of plants or animals; 
1.13and unique geological features.
1.14    Subd. 2. Wellhead protection. $……. is appropriated from the bond proceeds
1.15fund to the Board of Water and Soil Resources to acquire permanent easements that will 
1.16prevent industrial silica sand mining in wellhead protection areas, as defined in Minnesota 
1.17Statutes, section 103I.005, subdivision 24, in the areas of the state with industrial silica 
1.18sand resources likely to be mined, as identified by the commissioner of natural resources. 
1.19The board must consult with the commissioner of health to prioritize the easements to be 
1.20acquired.
1.21    Subd. 3. Bond sale. To provide the money appropriated in this section from the 
1.22bond proceeds fund, the commissioner of management and budget shall sell and issue 
1.23bonds of the state in an amount up to $……. in the manner, upon the terms, and with 
2.1the effect prescribed by Minnesota Statutes, sections 16A.631 to 16A.675, and by the 
2.2Minnesota Constitution, article XI, sections 4 to 7.

Essentially, this is an attempt to protect sensitive areas and wellheads in the area. While Hansen represents a near suburb of St. Paul, like Davids, he owns farm and hunting land in Southeastern Minnesota.

Bluestem believes that more bills related to sand mining are coming, including those that will be considered on Tuesday, February 19 hearing at noon, in Room 107 of the State Capitol by the Senate Environment & Energy Policy Committee as we noted in Land Stewardship Project: MN legislature must protect rural communities from frac sand mining.