A curious story with an interesting headline broke this afternoon at the Winona Daily News: Minnesota Sands to conduct EIS on proposed frac sand mines:
Minnesota Sands has offered to voluntarily conduct an Environmental Impact Statement[EIS]--an in-depth study that examines a project's potential affects on environmental and quality of life issues--for the proposed Dabelstein and Yoder frac sand mines in Saratoga Township. Earlier this month, the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recommended an EIS for the proposed sites.
Tonight's scheduled public hearing at Southeast Tech's Tandeski Center has been cancelled as a result.
Minnesota Public Radio picked up on the story with Frac sand firm agrees to voluntary environmental reviews for proposed SE Minn. mines:
A frac sand mining company proposing two mines in Winona County has agreed to conduct an in-depth environmental review of the projects voluntarily, officials said Thursday.
The decision by Minnesota Sands comes two weeks after the Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency called for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the proposals.
The more detailed review isn't required by state law, so it had been up to Winona County officials to decide whether to require one. A hearing on that question had been scheduled for tonight, but county officials cancelled the meeting after being notified of Minnesota Sands' decision. . . .
Well, doesn't that sound wonderful? That the company has volunteered to conduct a more exhaustive environmental review of itself? See, what good actors and neighbors the industrial sand mining industry is?
If Bluestem is getting a bit snarky, it's because under state law--outlined here under CHAPTER 4410, Environmental Review of the Minnesota Administrative Rules--an EIS isn't conducted by the entity proposing the project.
An EIS is conducted by a responsible government unit (RGU); the environmental assessment worksheets that were found so inadequate by state agencies--that was conducted by Minnesota Sands.
Not all news organizations and stakeholders in this shifting sand drama were as confused as the Winona Daily News and Minnesota Public Radio. HThe Rochester Post Bulletin reported in Minnesota Sands agrees to environmental impact statement
Winona County Planner Jason Gilman said the scope of the EIS, and which governmental unit will do it, will be determined in a few days. It's possible it will be Winona County but if the scope goes into quarries that might be opened in Fillmore County, the state might get involved, he said.
It's also possible that a processing plant could be studied as part of of the study, he said.
This is the first EIS for silica mining in southeastern Minnesota, he said, and could set the tone and direction for other operations. "I think this is certainly precedent-setting," Gilman said.
Earlier in the PB article, however, the spokester for Minnesota Sands continued the public relations offense, painting the EIS as simply a process that would make critics feel better:
"I think this EIS will remove all those concerns," he said. "They don't know what is in the hearts and minds of the people who are trying to get this done … this will bring everybody up to the same speed and should answer all of their concerns."
When the smaller environmental assessment worksheet, which can be a precursor to an EIS, was done, nearly all public comments were negative. Opponents cited noise, the number of trucks, water pollution and fear of silicosis as reasons they wanted at least a full EIS. Also, the Minnesota Health Department and Pollution Control Agency have asked for the EIS because of many of the same concerns. . . .
The full environmental study will help appease those who oppose mines, Bublitz said. "Why not just do it?" he asked.
The landowners who want to lease their land to Minnesota Sands "are good, decent people," he said. "They respect the land … this is their backyard."
Johanna Rupprecht, Land Stewardship Project policy organizer, said that while Minnesota Sands asked for the EIS voluntarily, "it's clear that because of the public pressure" the study couldn't be avoided.
She wants to make sure it is done right. "We are gong to be very vigilant and make sure it gets done right," she said.
It was announced today that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will be performed on the controversial Dabelstein-Yoder frac sand mines proposed for Winona County's Saratoga Township. While an EIS is in process, all permitting decisions are put on hold.
Today's announcement that Minnesota Sands, the proposer of the Dabelstein-Yoder frac sand mine facilities, has formally "requested" that an EIS be performed on its projects verifies what has been clear from the beginning: an EIS for a project of this scope was necessary. This fact was reinforced most recently when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Health called for a full EIS of these proposed frac sand mines.
The Land Stewardship Project is concerned that the proposers of the mines do not understand the EIS process and their role in this process. The latest evidence of this is a letter dated Feb. 20 to Jason Gilman, Winona County's Planning Director. In the letter, the proposers asked that the permitting process be tabled to "allow us to perform a voluntary EIS." Under Minnesota law, the EIS must be performed by the county, not the proposers. This is critical to make certain that the study is done in a way that all potential impacts to our land, water, air, roads and community are examined thoroughly and fairly.
It has become clear in recent weeks that in fact these projects are not appropriate for the community, given the strain they would put on the environment, human health and the infrastructure. Given the proposers' unwillingness to engage in a thorough environmental review up to this point, the Land Stewardship Project will be watching the EIS process very closely.
Here's the letter from G-Cubed consulting announcing that the company's decision:
More on the process and differences between an EAW and EIS here.
Photo: Did somebody say frac sand train wreck?
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