In a split Winona County Board vote earlier this year, county leaders determined the county’s first proposed frac sand mine would not require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to move ahead with mining plans. In response to the vote, a group of 12 Winona County citizens have filed an appeal, asking the Minnesota Court of Appeals to rule on whether the county vote upheld state guidelines for when an EIS should be required, due to the potential cumulative impact of adjacent planned mines.
The 20-acre mine proposal would harvest sand on property owned by David Nisbit in Saratoga Township for approximately three years. It is the first, smallest, and shortest duration sand mine proposed in Winona County. Supporters say because of the small size and short duration, the operation could serve as a pilot to test the way new county regulations would work. Opponents say the mine, when considered among other proposed mines in Winona, Houston, and Fillmore counties, could harm public safety and the environment.
The appeal objects to the County Board decision as arbitrary and capricious, and that it did not follow the recommendations of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Health – both of which recommended the mine plans be subject to an EIS.
Minnesota Rules require a government unit to consider the potential for the cumulative impact of multiple mine proposals when determining the need for an EIS. The group which filed the appeal claims the county failed to recognize those potential effects. “It was irresponsible of the board to decide that there would be no cumulative effects, when so many other sites have already been proposed for mining,” said Vince Ready, one of the appellants who resides in Saratoga Township. “What is at stake is the industrialization of a rural area, with strip mining for the benefit of outside corporate interests, at the cost of the health and welfare of residents.”
Ready, along with Jane Cowgill of Winona, Pauline Connaughty of Saratoga Township, Mike Knutson of Utica, Joe Morse of Wilson Township, Barb and Martin Nelson of The Arches, Jim Pelowski of Saratoga Township, Renee Ready of Saratoga Township, Stewart and Kay Shaw of Winona, and Margaret Walsh of Winona, filed the appeal. Land Stewardship Project Organizer Johanna Rupprecht said appellants and members of the community raised the $550 cost to file the appeal, as well as attorney costs. The Court of Appeals is expected to hear arguments in the appeal within three to four months, and a decision is expected to be rendered within six to 12 months.