The Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (EQB) has issued an order whereby it will take responsibility for overseeing an environmental review of 11 frac sand mines in Winona, Fillmore, and Houston counties proposed by Minnesota Sands. The agency also found that the 11 mine proposals should be considered "phased actions" and, therefore, must be evaluated together in the environmental study.
The order and "conclusions of law" issued by the EQB came after Fillmore and Houston county officials requested that a state agency oversee the environmental study, rather than one of the three counties in which the new mines were proposed. In its order, the EQB asserted that it "has greater expertise in analyzing the potential impacts of the proposed project than Fillmore, Houston, or Winona counties."
Minnesota Sands announced last month it would voluntarily conduct an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on two mines proposed in Winona County known as the Dabelstein and Yoder mine sites. The company later agreed that the EIS, which examines potential environmental, health, and safety impacts of a set of development plans, would cover other mines it had proposed in Fillmore and Houston counties. The two mines proposed in Winona County, along with the Boyum, Dabelstein (separate from the Winona County proposal), Kesler and Wadewitz properties in Fillmore County, as well as the Erickson, Tostenson, Olson, Chapel, and Johnson properties in Houston County, must be studied together in the EIS. The sites are within 12.5 miles of one another.
An EIS is an in-depth environmental study that reviews a set of projects for potential cumulative impact. It also provides an examination of possible health and safety issues that could be generated by planned development, and produces a set of recommendations for mitigating any anticipated negative effects. Several state agencies, along with local activists, have lobbied for the more stringent environmental study.
Nisbit mine hearing
On Thursday, March 21, the Winona County Planning Commission is expected to host a joint public hearing with the County Board on the proposed Nisbit mine in Saratoga Township.
The mine proposal has been studied through an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW). An EAW is a preliminary review intended to assist government officials with determining whether proposed development should be subject to a more intense environmental study through an EIS. The Winona County Board will vote in the coming weeks on whether an EIS will be required for the proposed mine. The 19.2-acre mine is not affiliated with the Minnesota Sands proposals, and proponents have said that its small size and three-year operating duration would make it a good case study for county leaders to test the way new frac sand regulations would work.