The smallest proposed frac sand mine in Winona County may get the green light Tuesday; or, the proposal may be required to be evaluated by an intensive environmental review that project officials said could kill the mine plans entirely. The decision will come when five votes are cast by Winona County Commissioners on Tuesday at 9 a.m.
The board is expected to vote on whether to require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for a 19.2-acre mine proposed by David Nisbit in Saratoga Township. Two larger mines proposed near the site will be evaluated through an EIS, after the operator of those mines, Minnesota Sands, announced it would voluntarily complete the study.
The state Environmental Quality Board (EQB) will oversee the Minnesota Sands EIS, and has stated it will not require the Nisbit mine to be reviewed by the study as a "phased or connected action." Winona County Planning and Environmental Services Director Jason Gilman, however, said there are several other ways in which the Nisbit proposal could be required to be part of the Minnesota Sands EIS or its own separate EIS. The EQB could require the Nisbit proposal to be evaluated as a "related action" in the Minnesota Sands EIS. Winona County Board members could require that the Nisbit proposal be reviewed with its own EIS because of the potential "cumulative impacts" it could produce. In addition, if the County Board votes against the requirement, an appeal could put the decision into a judge's hands.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has urged the County Board to require an EIS because it says the Nisbit mine could contribute to cumulative environmental effects when considered with other proposed mines in the region. No other new mines have yet been granted permits in Winona County, and several new mines have also been proposed in Fillmore and Houston counties.
The Winona County Planning Commission recently hosted a public hearing on the Nisbit proposal, which drew a number of concerned residents who opposed the mine plans. The Planning Commission recommended that the County Board not require an EIS for the Nisbit proposal. While it is unclear how the County Board will vote on Tuesday, an appeal process is likely, which would send the question of whether an EIS is necessary to district court.
Read the Wednesday edition of the Winona Post for more on the Nisbit mine.