EAW on frac mines, facilities, released


by Sarah Squires

Environmental studies for two proposed frac sand mines in Saratoga Township were released to the public on Christmas Eve. The environmental documents, called Environmental Assessment Worksheets (EAW), were re-released after erroneous information was discovered in the first version issued by Winona County.

The new EAWs are available at the Winona Public Library and on the Winona County Web site (www.co.winona.mn.us). The purpose of the environmental reviews is to help the public and county commissioners decide whether the two proposed mines should be subject to a more detailed environmental study, called an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Members of the public may submit comments on the proposed mines and EAWs through January 23, 2013. Comments should be sent to Jason Gilman, Winona County Planning and Environmental Services Director, 177 Main Street, Winona, MN, 55987; or comments may be e-mailed to jgilman@co.winona.mn.us.

After comments have been received by the county, planning department staff will have an additional 30 days to respond to the comments, compile “findings of fact” on the proposals, and present the information to the Winona County Planning Commission and County Board. County commissioners will then vote on whether the proposed mines should be subject to EIS reviews, or whether the EAWs are sufficient to evaluate potential environmental effects of the mines.

The proposals

The two mines are both proposed to be operated by the same company, Minnesota Sand, and the proposals and EAWs are nearly identical.

The first proposed mine would encompass an 84.3-acre site on property owned by William and Ida Yoder in Saratoga Township. The second proposed mine would be on a nearby 36.5-acre site owned by Roger Dabelstein.

Each mine would produce two million tons of sand per year, and would use 300 trucks per day to haul the sand six days per week. “Currently the sand would be hauled along designated routes to the city of Winona, Wisconsin, or Iowa,” both EAWs state. “If a processing facility is constructed within a more economical vicinity of the mine the haul routes will likely be amended through a conditional use permitting process.”

A processing facility has been proposed nearby; Minnesota Proppant has planned the largest frac sand processing and transportation facility in the country on 300 acres adjacent to the city of St. Charles. Plans include an underground pipeline that would start in Saratoga Township near the proposed mines and bring the sand six miles to the St. Charles facility, where it would be processed and loaded on rail cars. That proposal, along with several other planned sand mines in the area, have prompted the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and others to suggest county leaders carefully study the potential “cumulative” impact of the sand industry in the area when determining the need for an EIS.

Cumulative impact

The first EAWs released for the Yoder and Dabelstein mines included little information on the potential cumulative effects that the two mines and neighboring operations might have. The new draft, however, attempts to tackle the issue.

The EAWs state a “worse case” scenario would be 160 acres of mines approved in Winona County, each excavating to a depth of 100 feet. That, they conclude, would be a “20-year supply” of sand.

The EAWs also list some of the proposed new frac sand mines or related facilities in the area. The list includes:

• Yoder and Dabelstein mines;

• A number of processing facilities in the city of Winona;

• A large number of shipping facilities in the city of Winona where rail and barge access is available;

• Proposed Minnesota Proppant processing and transportation plant on 300 acres near the city of St. Charles, with an annual processing capacity of four million tons;

• A 19.1-acre quarry site proposed in Saratoga Township on property owned by Dave Nisbit, which proposes to haul sand to the city of Winona;

• One 50-acre mine proposed in Fillmore County in Holt Township on County Road 10;

• Three pre-applications for mines in Fillmore County in Pilot Mound Township, just south of Saratoga Township, about a mile from Winona County Road 33, south of County Road 104 and County Road 30 (two 50-acre mines proposed and one 30-acre). The mine operator is listed as Minnesota Sands;

• The EAWs also refer to a Winona Post October interview with Jennifer Dessner, Minnesota Proppant spokesperson, who said the company had nine leases with property owners for mines in three counties.

The EAWs also attempt to summarize all of the potential cumulative effects of the mines, including:

• Impact of vibrations on neighboring properties caused by blasting cap rock;

• Impact on road infrastructure and safety due to truck traffic;

• Impact of traffic entering the cities of Winona and Goodview with regard to levels of service, safety and infrastructure capacity;

• Impact on air quality due to dust or airborne crystalline silica;

• Impact on water quality due to change in land cover and runoff quality/rates;

• Impact on processing facilities, existing and proposed;

• Impact on shipping facilities, existing and proposed;

• Impact on other quarries, existing and proposed;

• Impact due to expansions at existing processing, shipping, or quarries;

• Impact created by fluctuations in market demand;

• Impact created by new technologies and material uses.

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