by Sarah Squires
Winona County's first frac sand mine proposed since the moratorium was lifted in May will be on the Winona County Planning Commission agenda for Thursday night at 7 p.m. at the county office building on Main Street.
David and Sherry Nisbit have requested a Conditional Use Permit to mine 20 acres on a 75-acre parcel in Saratoga Township, about 2.8 miles south of the intersection of County Road 113 and County Road 6.
Most of the sand will be hauled to Winona, then sold and transported for hydraulic fracturing in oil fields elsewhere, while some will be used at local dairy farms as bedding sand.
The application includes a limit of 140 trucks per day. Trucks would leave the site using a new haul road planned for construction on the Nisbit parcel, which would cross Gethje Lane and onto a parcel owned by Thomas Campbell. The sand would enter County Road 113 from an existing driveway that is just past the Winona County line, and then would head south on County Road 113, east to County Road 33, north to Highway 14 and east on Highway 14 to Winona. Hours of operation are proposed as Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. until noon on Saturday, with no work on Sundays or holidays.
Divided into two phases, the mining would require the removal of limestone and shale cap rock which may require blasting at the top of the ridge, according to the application. Backhoes, loaders, a dry screen and dump trucks would be used to harvest the sand at the site.
Phase 1 would mine approximately eight acres with a three to five acre working and processing area. About 203,000 cubic yards would be harvested and, "areas mined will be stabilized and temporarily restored as the mining progresses," according to the application.
Phase 2 would extract approximately 492,000 cubic yards of sand, using the same equipment and methods as Phase 1. Permanent restoration will include coverage of the area with the removed topsoil and spoil, then it will be seeded with a pasture mix after the second phase reaches more than three to five acres in size.
Stormwater and erosion control would be handled through a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) permit, and dust control with a mist (wet suppression) system has been proposed. For driving surface dust control, an oil, chloride and water treatment would be used on the roadway. Other regulations from the Department of Health and Human Services Center for Disease Control and the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety will be followed, and are outlined in the county permit application.
The mine is expected to be able to sell between 200,000 and 300,000 cubic yards of sand per year. If that expectation is fulfilled, the first phase would take about a year, the second two years.
Winona County Planning staff, in a report on the application, presented some concerns with plans that would route empty trucks from County Road 113 to Gathje Lane. The report indicated this could pose a traffic hazard for southbound vehicles on County Road 113, suggesting that the Planning Commission clarify the issue.
A traffic study was conducted by Wenck Associates, Inc., which indicated that all of the intersections analyzed have adequate capacity to accommodate the project. The report acknowledged sight deficiencies at the County Road 33 and County Road 113 intersection, as well as the County Road 33 and County Road 6 intersection. "Due to the very low volumes at these locations, physical improvements to the roadways to increase the sight distances are not justified," continues the study. "We recommend advanced warning signs on County Road 33 at County Road 113 and County Road 6 at County Road 33."Additional signs should be added while the mine is operational, it adds, and removed when it is not.
Darrell Buck, Winona County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) submitted a letter which included several concerns about the proposal, and asked that an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) be completed for the project.
He questioned whether there was enough topsoil present to complete restoration and reseeding of the area, and also asked for more specifics about what kinds of plants would be planted and what currently grows there. He asked that a "subterranean engineering analysis" be completed for the site. Buck wrote that information about sinkhole probability at the surface of the area won't help predict whether they will open up many feet below the surface, presenting information that would suggest sinkholes become more probable at lower elevations in the area.
Jeff Broberg, of McGhie and Betts Environmental Services, Inc., submitted information in response to the SWCD inquiries, showing that calculations done by the company showed more than 2.5 feet of topsoil that could be used for reclamation, which aims for an 8-inch depth. He also explained that reclamation plans would not restore the site to "pre-mining" condition, but that it would consist principally of a mix of cool season/legume grassland suitable for pasture. Native species won't be used, he wrote, because they are hard to establish and maintain. He said a subterranean engineering plan isn't required by the county's ordinance, nor did he think it prudent for the project.
Tom Rowekamp, CEO of IT Sands LLC, is expected to represent Nisbit during the upcoming hearings on the permit request. He has owned a trucking company for 20 years, and was looking for local sand to supply to two area farmers when the frac sand industry began to take off. He said the Nisbit site was a good fit because it had never been farmed—a hillside surrounded by cornfields. When he learned the area also had frac quality sand, plans expanded from that first look for dairy sand.
He said the operation would hire a couple of people for the mine work, and the trucking will be done by independent truckers, including himself and Nisbit. Rowekamp estimates eight or nine trucks will be hauling roughly 60 to 80 loads on average per day, headed to Hemker's facility in Winona, or possibly to the St. Charles area if plans for the closer rail transfer facility go forward.
Rowekamp has been a frequent attendee at county meetings, as the board worked to study the frac sand industry during the moratorium to ensure regulations were in place to handle any potential rush to mine. He said the process went pretty well, and county leaders have done their homework. "The county is doing its job for citizens in making sure this is regulated to a point where everybody should be happy," he said.