IMPORTANT UPDATE: The Environmental Quality Board (EQB) to act as regulatory government unit for the frac sand EIS for the 11 connected MN Sands mines in Winona Co. See section below on Winona County for more details. [end update]
How far in the bag for the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council is Representative Tim Kelly (R-Red Wing)?
Pretty far, judging by the contrast between the bill he's introduced in the Minnesota House with the reality of a snarl of environmental review woes facing projects across Southern Minnesota.
MDH on Jordan Sands: no coherent strategy for water quality
In Mankato, the Free Press reports in a read-between-the-liner, Jordan Sands mining project delayed:
Lime Township’s next decision on the Jordan Sands silica sand mining project has been delayed until May after the company asked for 60 extra days to respond to public comments on an environmental study.
Jordan Sands asked for the delay to thoroughly answer questions about the study, CEO Scott Sustacek said.
“We think we can cover all the comments and questions that came up,” he said.
Oh really? And what might those questions be? Free Press staff writer Dan Linehan reports:
State agencies such as the Department of Health, the Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources joined the public in submitting comments on the study.
The health department’s 10-page comment focuses on the potential for groundwater contamination at the site, just north of Mankato. It says the existing study doesn’t provide enough information regarding water and chemical use to evaluate its risk on nearby wells. The response also says the study doesn’t provide enough information to determine whether the company’s proposal for monitoring wells is sufficient.
“It appears that no coherent strategy has been developed for monitoring potential water quality impacts at this project,” the document states.
Okay then. No wonder residents in the area are hoping for Senator Matt Schmit's SF786 makes it to Governor Dayton's desk:
Lynn Austin, another 3rd Avenue resident, said he hopes the delay will give the state time to implement more-stringent environmental standards, especially on airborne silica sand particles.
One bill in the state Senate would establish a one-year moratorium on silica sand mines.
Winona County: Frac sand mines of three counties unite!
THIS SECTION IS UPDATED AND REVISED: The Winona Post's Sarah Schultz reports in EQB takes control of sand EIS:
The Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (EQB) has issued an order whereby it will take responsibility for overseeing an environmental review of 11 frac sand mines in Winona, Fillmore, and Houston counties proposed by Minnesota Sands. The agency also found that the 11 mine proposals should be considered "phased actions" and, therefore, must be evaluated together in the environmental study.
The order and "conclusions of law" issued by the EQB came after Fillmore and Houston county officials requested that a state agency oversee the environmental study, rather than one of the three counties in which the new mines were proposed. In its order, the EQB asserted that it "has greater expertise in analyzing the potential impacts of the proposed project than Fillmore, Houston, or Winona counties." . . .
Read the rest at the Winona Post.
Here's a copy of the EBQ's Draft Findings of Fact, Conclusions and Order on Requests to Designate a Different Responsible Governmental Unit for Environmental Review of Multiple Silica Sand Projects Proposed in Fillmore, Houston, and Winona Counties:
Over in Winona, Daily News staff writer Mary Juhl reports in Review of frac sand mines could extend to 3 counties, but as the Winona Post report indicates, the EBQ did not grant the company's wish about the DNR:
The comprehensive environmental review planned for two Winona County frac sand mines may widen to include mines in two neighboring counties.
Minnesota Sands agreed last month to complete an Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed Dabelstein and Yoder mines in Saratoga Township.
The company also plans to operate four mines in Fillmore County and one in Houston County, and has requested that all the mines be reviewed at the same time.
The company wants the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to lead the review process, a recommendation the counties are expected to discuss soon.
The Winona County Board of Commissioners is expected to weigh in today on whether it agrees with the company’s plan or whether it believes a different agency should lead the process.
It’s ultimately to the state’s Environmental Quality Board [EQB] to pick a government unit to oversee the process. Typically a local government will handle an EIS, but since this case involves multiple counties, it’s likely the board will choose a state agency.
Readers should remember that Minnesota Sands got to this place because review by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Health revealed weaknesses in the company's environmental assessment worksheet (EAW):
Minnesota Sands agreed to the EIS after it came under scrutiny from state agencies that questioned whether separate and less-intensive environmental reviews on the mines would be enough. The commissioners of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Health both expressed concern that if the mines were studied separately, there would be no way of knowing what cumulative effects could arise from truck traffic, safety, air and water quality and other issues.
As the Winona Post reported, the EQB will act as the regulatory government unit for the 11 connected mines.
St Charles mayor: washing hands of sand
In the third example of frac sand industry fuster clucking, Winona Daily News staff writer Tesla Rodriquez reports in St. Charles won’t annex land for frac sand plant:
The St. Charles City Council is expected to vote today against annexing township land for a large proposed frac sand processing facility, which would leave the future of the facility in doubt.
Minnesota Proppant made it clear more than a year ago that it wanted the proposed site annexed into city limits so it could use city utilities.
But that’s not likely to happen, St. Charles Mayor Bill Spitzer said Monday.
“At this particular time, I think it’s time to step away,” he said. . . .
. . .Minnesota Proppant in the past had said the project’s viability depended on the ability to get city services. But it was unknown Monday whether the company plans to move forward. Minnesota Proppant spokeswoman Jennifer Dessner did not return phone calls Monday. She has not returned phone calls for comment on multiple stories dating back to early this year.
How nice--but since this is an industrial sand mining and processing company, another shoe drops:
The company’s next move, if it chooses to continue pursuing the facility, would be to seek a conditional-use permit from Winona County. The county in the past has told St. Charles to take the lead on permitting the facility, because if it’s approved and then at any point annexed into the city, the city would have little control over it.
The St. Charles Township board voted unanimously last year against orderly annexation, and township officials have said they don’t want a frac sand processing plant.
The city council has listened an uproar over the plant dating back to spring 2012 from residents who don’t want the plant near or within city limits. There have been two petitions submitted opposing the plant — one with more than 1,000 signatures from St. Charles residents.
Bluestem's sources tell us that the Winona County board is very friendly toward sand mining--regardless of what citizens and landowners want--so seeking a permit from the county might be a way around overwhelming local opposition.
This issues surrounding three different project underscore why grassroot citizens groups and Land Stewardship Project want a one-year, state-wide Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) to study issues related to sand mining, while a moratorium is in place for new projects.
Moratorium advocates point to the rush to construct large feedlots during the last GEIS, which didn't impose a moratorium.
Kelly: The Representative from MISC
So what's Representative Tim Kelly's response? According a report in the Rochester Post Bulletin, he's listening to the honeyed whispers of disgraced soon-to-be-former Red Wing Mayor, Minnesota Industrial Sand Council (MISC) Dennis Egan.
Picking dollars over duty, Egan resigned as mayor, effective April 1, following scrutiny over the ethical wrinkles created by serving Red Wing and Mammon.
PB political reported Heather Carlson reports in Kelly backs silica sand bill without moratorium:
A Red Wing Republican who opposes a moratorium on silica sand mining is pushing another approach to deal with concerns about the mining's impact on the region.
Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, has introduced a bill that would create a Silica Sand Technical Advisory Council comprised of technical experts from four state agencies — the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Department of Health and Department of Transportation.
Note that those dirty hippies from the EQB are missing from this proposal. Dennis Egan couldn't be more pleased:
Dennis Egan, executive director of the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council, said his organization favors Kelly's bill. They are strongly opposed to a moratorium, which he said will unfairly penalize mining companies across the state that have already sunk millions of dollars into completing environmental reviews. Instead, it makes sense to have a technical advisory council where local governments can get answers to their questions.
"If we can find the dollars and the expertise for the state agencies to drill down and work in those communities on their specific issues, we think that is a great way to go," he said.
Land Stewardship Project legislative director Bobby King is not impressed:
But critics argue that the bill's failure to include a moratorium and a requirement for a statewide Generic Environmental Impact Statement means it won't adequately protect the public from the possible hazards of silica sand mining.
"We would say it really falls short of what citizens and local government officials have asked for the state legislature to do, and the bill really won't prevent the frac-sand industry from destroying southeast Minnesota like it has western Wisconsin," said Bobby King, program organizer with the Land Stewardship Project
Read the whole article at the PB.
Grassroots frac sand mining critics mobilize for Wednesday
Local grassroots activists and Land Stewardship Project aren't stopping with criticism--they're mobilizing once again and heading to the capital for Wednesday's hearings in the Minnesota House. In MN House Holding First Hearing on Frac Sand Issue March 13, LSP urges action, favoring amending a bill introduced by Representative Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul):
MN House to Hold First Hearing on the Issue
House File 906, authored by Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-Mendota Heights), will be heard Wednesday, March 13, in the House Environment Policy Committee. House File 906 calls for the Environmental Quality Board to develop standards for frac sand ordinances that can be used by local units of government and to create a technical assistance team to help local units of government. We must work to strengthen this bill by making sure it contains the key elements of Senate File 786.
1. Attend the House Environment Policy Committee hearing on House File 906 on Wednesday, March 13, at 4 p.m., in Room 200 of the State Office Building. If you want to testify on the bill, contact committee administrator Peter Strohmeier at 651-296-5069 or firstname.lastname@example.org. If you plan to attend, please let LSP's Bobby King know at 612-722-6377 or email@example.com.
2. Contact members of the House Environment Policy Committee. Every committee member needs to hear how important it is that the Legislature take strong action on this issue during this legislative session. (Check LSP's site for talking points.
We'll let readers know if the hearing is livestreamed.
Photo: A frac sand train wreck in Wisconsin.
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