Whether two proposed frac sand mines for Saratoga Township will be routed through the county permitting process, or be stalled by a requirement for further environmental review, is a question that will soon be answered by the Winona County Board. On Thursday, members of the public will have the chance to weigh in on the issue.
The Winona County Board and Planning Commission will meet in joint session for a public hearing on the two mines on Thursday, February 21 at 7 p.m. at the Tandeski Center at Southeast Technical College. Because a large turnout for the hearing is expected, the session was moved to accommodate the crowd.
The mines, proposed by William and Ida Yoder and Roger Dabelstein, would both be operated by Minnesota Sands, LLC. The Yoders and Dabelstein have each submitted separate Environmental Assessment Worksheets (EAW) on the two plans. The Yoder mine would encompass an 84.3-acre site, while the Dabelstein mine would be located on a nearby 36.5-acre parcel.
Each mine would produce two million tons of sand annually, and would use 300 semi truckloads per day six days per week to haul the sand. According to the EAWs, the sand would be hauled along “designated routes to the city of Winona, Wisconsin or Iowa.” Both documents suggest that if a processing facility were developed closer to the sites, the sand would likely be taken to the closer processing plant. A large-scale processing facility, Minnesota Proppant, has been proposed on land adjacent to the city of St. Charles and near the proposed new mines, but has yet to receive permits from local government authorities.
County leaders have been charged with determining whether the EAW reviews are sufficient for evaluating the environmental and other potential effects of the proposed new mines. If county leaders would like the proposals to be further evaluated, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) may be required.
Both the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) have recommended that the county require an EIS for the new mines, stating that the two mines and other proposed sand operations in the area should be considered “phased actions,” and reviewed through a joint EIS.
The MDH asks that the county require the more extensive environmental review in order to ensure that nearby wells are not negatively affected by the operations, and to address levels of respirable dust that could be generated by the mines. The letter states diesel exhaust produced by the semi trucks would also contribute to residents’ risk of contracting respiratory and other diseases.
The MPCA recommended an EIS be required so that the potential cumulative effects of the two mines and other related sand facilities proposed for the area can be examined. The agency further states that the EAWs do not fully address potential dust emissions from the mines or what would be required to mitigate concerns about dust.
State leaders have also been pressured by local residents and activists to impose a Generic Environmental Impact Statement for the entire region, a broad study that would analyze the potential cumulative impacts across a large portion of the state, as well as provide recommendations on how to lessen negative effects. On Tuesday, citizens from across Minnesota gathered in St. Paul to tell state legislators how they feel about the growing frac sand mining, processing and transportation industry. Keep reading the Winona Post for more on this story.