While we were off digging into the influence of potato industry money in Minnesota politics and watching the Minnesota legislative session in all its glory, time marched on in the state's industrial sand industry news.
North Branch (Chisago County)
The Chisago County Press reports in Superior Silica Sand not pursuing plant in North Branch; trucking routes, bypass still need study:
Superior Silica Sands CEO Rick Shearer says the opening last month of the company’s Arland, Wisconsin facility has allowed SSS to “move on.” But, county and local officials are still considering undertaking a truck hauling study originally meant to resolve issues related to a Superior Silica Sands project proposed in North Branch.
Shearer told the Press, “...not to say we’ll never be back (looking) at North Branch” but Superior is pursuing “other options” for accessing rail lines. SSS (a subsidiary of Emerge Energy Services) opened its 2.5 million ton plant in December at Arland, in Barron County, and Shearer explained that this is working out for transport of sand mined in west Wisconsin.
SSS found itself at the hub of too much community conflict, according to Shearer. He added, “We pride ourselves on being positive contributors to the local communities where we operate,” and the political turmoil over the potential for heavy truck traffic between Wisconsin and North Branch, via Taylors Falls, was enough to put the North Branch project on the back-burner.
Read the rest at the Chisago County Press. We'll keep an eye on this one, which has the many lives of a cat.
Minnesota Sands revives, pays for EIS as law demands
Speaking of projects that won't die, the contentious, multi-county Minnesota Sands project is moving ahead, multiple news sources report. At the Star Tribune on February 4, Tony Kennedy reports in Minnesota frac sand project, stalled by environmental issue, resurfaces:
A major frac sand proposal for southeastern Minnesota, which stalled two years when the state demanded an extensive environmental review, is back on track with a $130,450 payment made to regulators to fund the first phase of study.
Minnesota Sands LLC delivered the cash in late December for the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (EQB), founder Rick Frick said, and will submit a revised business plan by the end of February involving several related frac sand operations in at least four counties: Winona, Fillmore, Olmsted, Goodhue and possibly Wabasha.
No wonder Hackbarth reopened this issue for an industry whineathon about regulations in his Mining and Outdoor Wrecks Committee without asking citizen groups as well. See more in Mining & Outdoor Wrecks Committee: Hackbarth's frac sand industry showcase.
Kennedy goes on to report:
The news prompted immediate criticism from one of the groups that successfully pressed regulators to require an environmental impact statement — the most expensive and thorough analysis the state can mandate for a project.
“This project would be devastating to the rural communities where it’s proposed,’’ said Johanna Rupprecht, policy organizer for the nonprofit Land Stewardship Project in Lewiston, Minn.
She said opponents believe the comprehensive environmental review will “clearly show that this project must not be permitted.” Among the concerns are lung disease from air pollution and contamination of drinking water in the environmentally sensitive karst geology of the region. Rupprecht said the step by Minnesota Sands is “important news because it clearly shows that the threat to southeastern Minnesota from the frac sand industry is still very far from over.”
Read the feature at the Star Tribune.
Houston County ordinance
At the Houston County News, Craig Moorhead reports in County board sets final hearing on sand mines:
The Houston County Board of Commissioners moved one step closer to ending their moratorium on new sand mining applications at its meeting Jan. 27. After hearing reports from the county’s planning commission – which recently reviewed an updated mineral extraction ordinance – the board voted to hold its own public hearing on the matter at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 18.
County attorney Sam Jandt told commissioners that a 10-day notice of the board’s intent to change the mining ordinance must be published prior to a final vote. The last regular meeting before the interim ordinance (moratorium) expires is March 17.
The interim ordinance to give the county time to study the effects of frac sand mining took effect on March 20, 2012. Originally set for one year, it has been renewed ever since.
The issue has been contentious from the start. The county began by forming a study committee on frac sand mining, but that group was disbanded when it could not agree on a plan. A second committee was later formed to draft a revised ordinance which takes the burgeoning frac sand industry into account. That document was completed recently, then changed before the planning commission met.
During the public comment portion of last week’s meeting, several citizens spoke in opposition to those changes.
Michael Fields of Winnebago Township challenged a statement by a planning commission member that “sand is sand” when it comes to high-silica content material.
“Sandbox sand won’t give you silicosis,” he said.
Yucatan Township resident Bryan Van Gorp said that in its current state, the proposed ordinance is no longer restrictive enough.
“The new ordinance throws open the doors and says, ‘Have at it boys,’” (to prospectors), he said.
Bruce Kuehmichel of Caledonia said the altered document represents, “The shredded remnants of good intentions.”
Commissioner Justin Zmyewski questioned some of the last-minute alterations as well. As a member of the ordinance-drafting committee, he noted that the process was not always “quite as transparent as it could be,” and that the group" was not in 100 percent agreement” on the final draft.
Contacted afterward to explain those comments, he said that he discovered four members meeting behind closed doors late in the process – before the rest of the nine-member panel was scheduled to arrive. While that did not necessarily represent an effort by a minority to control the process, some alterations were apparently put forward that lacked the consensus of the entire group, Zmyewski said.
Well then. In the Caledonia article, Commissioner concerned with process, Daniel McGonigle reports:
At the regular county board meeting Zymewski shared his concerns with the other county commissioners regarding the process of adapting and adopting the Houston County Mineral Extraction ordinance.
“I’m a little concerned because I’ve walked in on four members of the committee who were meeting in what seemed independent of the rest of the group,” Zymewski told other commissioners. “I don’t think that was the directive of the board and I’m concerned the process wasn’t transparent.”
Zymewski wants to make sure that there isn’t any perceived bias on the part of the committee tasked with writing the ordinance.
Bluestem would also have to wonder if such a "pre-meeting" conformed to the state's open meeting laws. The editor continues:
Money Creek says “scrap”
In a letter addressed to the Houston County Board of Commissioners regarding the draft mineral extraction ordinance, the board of Money Creek Township says “scrap.”
“We, the supervisors of Money Creek Township have reviewed the proposed draft Mineral Extraction Ordinance. It is the opinion of this board that this proposed ordinance should be completely scrapped, and replaced with an outright ban of sillica sand mining in Houston County. It is this, the unanimous recommendation that in light of the recent overwhelming public statements and letters calling for a complete ban on silica sand mining in Houston County, that the County Board and ordinance committee focus on the appropriate language for such a ban, rather than attempting to amend the regulatory draft ordinance.”
We'll see if which Money Creek gets the county commissioners' attention.
Movie still: Pastoral innocent Dorothy threatened by sand in an hourglass. A lot of that going around.
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