Photo by Sarah Joy
People from across Minnesota gathered at the Capitol Tuesday to provide testimony on the silica sand industry.
Just as Winona County leaders prepared to host a public hearing on whether two proposed sand mines should be subject to an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), Minnesota Sands, LLC, the company behind the mine proposals, announced it would complete the environmental review voluntarily.
Minnesota Sands is the company behind several proposed mines in the region, including the Dabelstein and Yoder mines in Saratoga Township and a handful of other proposed facilities in Fillmore County. Several Minnesota Sands owners, along with its spokesperson, are affiliated with a proposed sand processing and transportation facility near St. Charles called Minnesota Proppant.
The scope of the EIS has yet to be determined, said Winona County Planning and Environmental Services Director Jason Gilman. It is unclear whether the environmental study will examine just the Dabelstein and Yoder proposals, or whether it will also examine the planned Minnesota Proppant sand processing and transportation facility and other proposed mines in the region.
Gilman, along with Minnesota Sands owners, are expected to confer with state leaders on the scope of the EIS in the coming days. And while it may not be clear exactly what projects the environmental review will examine, the voluntary mine study will put to rest some of the controversy surrounding the proposed mines in Winona County. For now.
One of the first steps in the EIS process, said GIlman, is to determine what government unit will oversee the study. In this case, Gilman said the state may very well be the agency to take charge, since it is somewhat likely that the study will examine proposals that cross into other counties.
Once the government authority is determined, the scope of the EIS will be determined and a consultant chosen by the government unit selected to oversee the work. The cost of the EIS will be paid for by Minnesota Sands.
Earlier this month, the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency both released statements recommending that Winona County leaders impose an EIS on the Minnesota Sands mine proposals, adding their voice to the many citizens who have urged county leaders to do the same.
"We will stay vigilant to make sure that the EIS gets done right and that there is a serious, in-depth look at these serious concerns that have been raised [about sand mines]," said Johanna Rupprecht of the Land Stewardship Project.
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.