SF796: Senator Schmit's Driftless Area Water Resources language
Politics in Minnesota's Charley Shaw reports in New frac sand proposal starts moving in the Senate that SF796 contains language that would restrict the areas where sand could be mined in six Minnesota counties known as the driftless region. He writes:
A new proposal to limit frac sand mining has surfaced in the state Senate. The Senate Environment and Energy Committee on Tuesday night passed a game and fish bill that would significantly restrict mining activities in southeastern Minnesota . . .he point person on frac sand bills in the Senate, Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, is carrying a game and fish bill that raises water-related concerns about frac sand mining. The bill would prohibit any industrial silica sand mining in an area that’s referred to as the Department of Natural Resources Paleozoic Plateau Ecological Section if its located “within one mile of any spring, groundwater seepage area, fen, designated trout stream, class 2a water as designated in the rules of the Pollution Control Agency, or any perennially flowing tributary of a designated trout stream of class 2a water.”
The Paleozoic Plateau encompasses much of southeastern Minnesota.
Schmit said the porous type of geology in southeastern Minnesota makes the region susceptible to water pollution that harm its unique cold water fishery.
“There is no guarantee that we are going to have any other bill on silica sand mining pass out of the Legislature this year, so this is I think an appropriate place for some standards regarding our waters and our trout fishing,” Schmit said.
Trout Unlimited has been particularly aggressive in testifying about the potential threat that unchecked industrial sand mining might posed to trout in southeastern Minnesota. Back in February, Star Tribune sand reporter Tony Kennedy reported in Trout group fears frac sand damage to streams:
. . .Besides holding vast reserves of the world's best frac sand, southeastern Minnesota also is home to an extensive network of ecologically fragile trout streams.
John Lenczewski, who heads the state chapter of Trout Unlimited, told a joint Senate and House hearing Tuesday that Minnesota's streams are spring-fed by the same drinking water that frac sand processing facilities want to pump out of the ground in huge volumes. Mining companies use the water to separate valuable silica sand from waste material. There are fears that the reserves will be depleted to the extent that stream flows are reduced, endangering fish habitat.
"The industry does not need to use our future drinking water to wash sand,'' Lenczewski said.
He also called on the Legislature to prohibit sand mines from digging within 25 feet of the water table. Some new frac sand mines in Wisconsin have been permitted to dig nearly all the way to ground water -- giving pollutants a direct path to aquifers.
In addition, Minnesota's trout anglers want the state to keep frac sand facilities far away from surface waters by writing new setback guidelines, Lenczewski said.
"The state does not have adequate regulation for our groundwater,'' Lenczewski said. . . .
Tim Faust Town Hall: Highway 70 Revisited
The Pine City Pioneer reports in Residents voice concerns, anger over Hwy. 70:
A crowd of around 80 residents and concerned neighbors came to the Rock Creek Town Hall on March 8 to hear an update on a proposed Highway 70 reconstruction project, and to share concerns about plans to use that road as a route for trucks bringing frac sand from Wisconsin to Minnesota.
State Representative Tim Faust introduced MnDOT District Engineer Duane Hill.
“I don’t think I need to tell anyone in this room how dangerous this stretch of highway has become,” Faust said.
“On Highway 70, the accident rate is one accident per million vehicle miles,” Hill said. “That equals out to about one crash per month.”
He said the statewide average for roads like Highway 70 is half of a crash per month, or only half of the accident rate on Highway 70.
Before MNDOT begins to make the road safer, frac sand trucks will be traveling the crumbling road. Faust's constituents aren't happy. The Pioneer continues:
In response to questions, Hill said he did not know exactly how many of the 80,000 pound frac sand trucks would be traveling along Highway 70, but that he had heard it would be 12 trucks per hour. This would double the amount of heavy truck traffic currently on the highway. He asserted that the road is designed to handle those kinds of loads.
One resident at the meeting said that though the trucks are tarped, that doesn’t mean they don’t spread the sand through the air as they pass through.
“They come by with spillage all over them,” he said. “This sand, they’ve done studies on it ... silca sand. If there’s someone allergic to it, it can hurt them. Seal them up and wash these trucks off.” . . .
. . .Some residents expressed frustration and anger about the condition of Highway 70.
“In the spring, the water will boil up out of it and the pavement will move,” one man said.
“That road hasn’t been touched ... since I’ve been born,” another man said. “Nobody’s dug that swamp up. They don’t even know what’s down there. It’s been this way for 60 years, nothing changes. All of a sudden the fracking sand comes in.”
What could possibly go wrong?
Clarifying geology: Unimin mines in the Minnesota River Valley
Bluestem thinks that MPR listeners not familiar with the Minnesota River Valley between St. Peter and Le Sueur might be confused by something Minnesota's Chief Geologist Tony Runkel said in a Q & A about silica sand mining yesterday:
The largest active mining operation is located along the Minnesota River between Mankato and St Peter, not in a bluff landscape, but on a flat landscape. In that kind of setting the operators dig excavations below the surrounding mostly flat landscape.
Listeners would be forgiven if they came away with the idea that the Unimin mines weren't in the Minnesota River Valley, but "along" the way.
In fact, both mines are located on flat terraces below the bluffs. While the exact site of the mine is on the flat "prairies," the terraces are part of a valley landscape.
Photo: A brown trout taken from Whitewater State Park.
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