Two state agencies have taken a stance on the question of whether further environmental review should be required of two proposed frac sand mines in Saratoga Township.
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) have both written letters to Winona County leaders recommending that the mine proposals face a more comprehensive environmental study than has been supplied for the projects thus far. The Winona County Board is expected to vote on whether an expanded review called an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) should be required for the two mines on March 5, and will meet on February 21 at 7 p.m. at the Minnesota Southeast Technical College Tandeski Center for a joint public hearing on the question with the Winona County Planning Commission. (The Planning Commission will begin its regular meeting at 5:30 p.m.; the joint public hearing will begin at 7 p.m.)
The MDH commissioner and the MPCA commissioner have both requested that county leaders require the EIS for the Yoder and Dabelstein mines. An EIS is a comprehensive review of potential environmental effects of a project or group of projects which includes independent studies of the project(s) and provides recommendations for ways to prevent or reduce negative effects.
Both mine proposals have submitted Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW), studies that provided information on the potential environmental effects so that local leaders may evaluate whether an EIS should be required.
Both the MDH and the MPCA letters say the two mines, along with other proposed mines that would be operated by the same company, should be considered "phased actions," which means the projects should be considered together for potential environmental effects. MDH asserts that Minnesota Proppant, a proposed sand processing and transportation facility, should also be considered connected to the projects as a "phased action."
The MDH letter says that the impact of the two mines on ground water quality should be further examined to ensure that nearby wells are not negatively affected. It also states that there is little or no information available on the levels of respirable silica dust that could be generated from the mines, in order to evaluate the potential for health concerns. Additionally, the letter states that 1,200 truck trips per day that would be generated by the two mines would increase the amount of diesel exhaust in the area, which could contribute to residents' risk of contracting respiratory and other diseases.
The MPCA letter recommends an EIS be completed in order to fully examine the potential cumulative effects of the two mines, as well as other related proposed sand facilities in the area.
"While the EAWs provide an inventory of mining projects in the area surrounding the proposed projects, neither EAW provides a complete analysis of the cumulative impacts that may occur as a result of their interaction with each other, the other projects and the natural resources and communities that may be affected," states the MPCA letter.
Further, the letter states that the EAWs do not sufficiently address potential air emissions from the mine sites, the information does not analyze the potential impact of dust emissions "in any meaningful way, and the mitigation measures to be employed are essentially statements of good intentions rather than specific requirements." Dust control measures are not properly described, the letter continues, adding that, "This is of particular concern in light of human health hazards that may be related to elevated exposures to respirable crystalline silica sand particulates associated with frac sand activities."