SF 786, Schmit silica sand mining bill, approved by State and Local Government Committee


Freshman Senator Matt Schmit’s bill to impose a one-year statewide moratorium on new industrial sand mining, processing and loading facilities in Minnesota while a Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) is prepared passed on a 8-5 vote in the Minnesota Senate State and Local Government Committee Wednesday afternoon.

The bill now heads to the Committee on Finance.

In Frac sand mining moratorium bill advances in Senate, Minnesota Public Radio’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:

Republicans on the Senate State and Local Government Committee worried about the loss of local control. But a regional approach is needed, said bill author Sen. Matt Schmit of Red Wing, because the effects of the industry cross township and county lines.

“You can mine in one jurisdiction, put it in a truck and cart it around southeastern Minnesota,” Schmit said. “Similar with water impacts, our aquifers and our water tables don’t stop at county lines, so we’ve really got to have that broader regional conversation.”

Schmit isn’t talking in the abstract. People in Houston County–whose commissioners have extended a moratorium–are struggling with a plan by mine operators just across the Houston-Fillmore County line.

As Bluestem noted in Pretty neat small town learns frac sand trucks from next county may roll right over them:

Spring Grove’s prettiness and neatness may be frayed if plans to haul 120 daily truck loads of frac sand from a mine proposed across the Fillmore County line come to fruition. The situation underscores why people from Southeastern Minnesota are asking for state help in regulating the industrial sand industry.

The Spring Grove Herald’s Craig Moorhead reports in Frac sand route to go through downtown Spring Grove that the pretty neat small town is along the route for the sand’s secondary destination, New Albin, Iowa. The route will be used when facilities at Winona are beyond capacity:

A Fillmore County frac sand mine could be sending hundreds of trucks through downtown Spring Grove, Houston County commissioners were told last week.

“The reason we’re bringing this to you is because it’s going to have an effect on residents in Houston County,” environmental director Rick Frank told the board on Feb. 19.. . .

Traffic isn’t the only potential problem for Houston County from the Fillmore County site. Moorhead reports:

“This mine is within about two miles of Houston County,” Pogodzinski warned. “Impacts to groundwater sources are not just going to affect Fillmore (County).”

“Surface water drains down the Root River Valley. We don’t want the Root River becoming any more polluted than it already is.

Meanwhile, citizens concerned about unbridled industrial sand mining continue to send letters to the editors of Southern Minnesota newspapers.

In the Mankato Free Press, Sue Raasch writes Beware of silica sand mining promises, while Edward Harrington warns Let’s remember lessons from asbestos debacle. Larry Sonnek disagrees with claims by the industry in Sand mines should have impact statements.

In the Rochester Post Bulletin, Chatfield’s James Hoffman writes in Sand serves a crucial geological purpose, so leave it there:

. . .Most of this area is underlain with very porous karst limestone deposits. We are very fortunate that they are covered with heavy layers of sand which acts as an excellent filtration device, preventing ground water pollution from contaminating our underground aquifers.

Now you are proposing that we strip mine this natural filtration system to use as a propellant for forcing more fossil fuel from the ground — just when we should be doing the opposite and developing nonpolluting renewable fuel sources.

In 1970, Rochester insisted on putting a landfill on karst limestone deposits in Oronoco Township without liners in the first cell, poor liners in the second, and as a result created a Superfund site for the rest of us to clean up. . . .

In Schmit’s frac sand bill will protect communities, environment, Houston County’s Kelley Stanage writes:

. . . My hope is our local state legislators will see the wisdom of giving the same weight to health and concerns as the sand industry’s desire for a competitive advantage. If so, they will support a measured, well-researched course of action to address this new industry.

If oil and gas from fracking continue to be an important energy source into the future, taking a year to ensure frac-sand mining is safe, and that the costs of the activity will be borne by the industry, rather than local taxpayers, is a sensible approach.

Stanage’s letter was also published in Tuesday’s Spring Grove Herald and the Winona Daily News.

In Red Wing, Save The Bluff members Jody and Jim McIlrath write to the editors of the Republican Eagle in We need a three-legged frac bill:

Counties are doing a lot of hard work on their own ordinances. They do not have the resources to study multi-county cumulative impacts nor do they possess the authority to establish badly needed air quality/water quality and quantity standards. This is the crux of the frac sand bill: We need the big picture.

The frac sand industry is a gargantuan-sized business. It’s not a “mom and pop” 5-to-10-acre construction sand mine. Let’s talk thousands of acres.

Comparatively, a large frac sand mine in Wisconsin equals the entire acreage of the Minneapolis St. Paul Airport. If we have 100 of these sites in the drift-less area, what’s the impact on the entire river valley in southeastern Minnesota?

The House of Representatives is authoring a bill that looks quite different than Senator Schmit’s. It doesn’t have the “three legs” which would generate the desired outcome, thus far.

The Senate and House need to work together on this to produce the correct results. Fix the problems and take action together. We need a bi-partisan approach and a win-win or we’ll pay the ultimate price as did western Wisconsin.

Contact your district’s senator or representative and let them know you want action. We need protections for all of our southeastern counties and their citizens.

The letter also appeared in the Winona Daily News, where Marie Kovescsi asks that the city council monitor air quality now.

Bluestem’s Minnesota readers can find their legislators contact information via this link.