Winona County's first frac sand mine proposal will face a County Board vote Tuesday, the first time county leaders will vote on a mine request since the moratorium on new mines expired. If approved, the Saratoga mine site proposed by David and Sherry Nisbit will be the first granted a permit by the Winona County Board.
The 19.2-acre mine is also the smallest proposed sand mine site in the region, one that some county leaders in the past have described as a good way to evaluate how new mine regulations will work. The proposal has been on the table since September 2011. County leaders first tabled, then denied, the request, while a moratorium on the industry was enacted to allow county staff members to further study the mining industry and revamp existing nonmetallic mining regulations. Once the moratorium expired in May 2012, the Nisbits resubmitted the mine permit application.
In August 2012, the Winona County Planning Commission recommended the County Board approve the mine permit, but a citizen petition request for an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) delayed the plans. The EAW was completed, and the County Board voted that the environmental study was sufficient to evaluate the mine plans for environmental and other possible effects. The vote meant that the county would not require the Nisbits to complete a more extensive environmental review called an Environmental Impact Statement. However, a citizens group appealed the county decision against an EIS requirement, and the Minnesota Court of Appeals is expected to render a decision in the appeal within the year.
Several changes in the application have been submitted, including a request that the County Board consider a lower road use fee than has been proposed for such sand mines. The current requirement is for a $0.225 per ton, per mile fee for semi trucks that haul sand on county roads. Jeff Broberg, Nisbit consultant from McGhie & Betts Environmental Services, submitted a letter to the county requesting that the mine owners pay $0.60 per ton, as opposed to a fee that charges per ton, per mile. Additionally, the applicant would have the roadways used assessed before and after hauling and pay the actual costs of road damage during the life of the mine, according to the Broberg letter.
The city of Winona has also requested that the county require the Nisbits to conduct a Traffic Impact Analysis on any city roads that are not considered truck routes expected to be used to haul sand from the mine.
The Winona County Board will meet at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, June 4, at the County Government Center on Main Street.