A debate over whether to approve a permit for a 300-acre frac sand mine that could route 200 truckloads of sand per day to Winona is gearing up in Buffalo County, Wis. The Buffalo County Highway Committee supported the project, but the township that would be home to the mine has called for its rejection.
Photo by Cynthya Porter
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A proposal submitted in April by Utica-based River Valley Sand detailed the operation. Sand would be blasted, crushed, excavated, washed, stockpiled, and loaded for transport at the facility southeast of Mondovi. Under the proposal, mining would occur from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week, and processing would occur 24 hours a day. A 500-gallon-per-minute well is proposed to provide the water needed for processing and dust suppression. River Valley Sand owner Tim Heglemore has obtained lease agreements from four landowners in Dover Township to extract a 75-foot-thick layer of sandstone from under their farmland.
The Buffalo County Highway Committee supported the proposed mine, recommending that the county not charge the mine fees for road use or require a traffic impact analysis or health impact analysis. The Dover Township Board opposed the mine. The Buffalo County Zoning Committee is expected to consider Heglemore's application for a conditional use permit (CUP) on July 30.
The township's recommendation for denial cites concerns about traffic, increased road maintenance costs, cleanup of the mine, water use, and health impacts from silica dust. The township asked that River Valley Sand submit a reclamation plan for the mine before its CUP is approved, arguing that the company should clarify its plans to cleanup the mine before the county approves the project.
The township board also cited residents' concerns that the mine's 500-gallon-per-minute well will reduce the water levels in their wells. Residents fear that the wells that supply their homes and farms could run dry because of the demands round-the-clock washing of sand would place on the water table, a letter from the township board explained. The township called for baseline monitoring of water levels, and silica dust emissions were a concern, as well. "Residents of the town of Dover expressed concern about being lab rats and [about] the deleterious affects on health," the board wrote. The township letter referred to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publications on the respiratory dangers of particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5) as well as to a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) report on the toxicity of crystalline silica dust. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) lists silica dust as a carcinogen, the township board noted.
The CUP application states that air quality will be regulated by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR). WDNR fugitive dust regulations are primarily based on visible dust. WDNR programs train mine operators as on-site fugitive dust observers. The mine application mentions the spraying down of sand during dry weather as a method for controlling dust. The township residents' fears were not assuaged by this sort of monitoring and dust control. "The Town Board and its residents are concerned that there could be significant adverse health consequences well before the silica sand is visible and that 'watering down' the silica sand is not an adequate or proven solution to the problem," the board wrote.
According to the mine application, the mine would also comply with WIDNR regulations on water quality. There are numerous private wells within hundreds of feet of the mine. The mine application states that the nuisance caused by nighttime lights will be reduced by focusing the lights and noise will be controlled by leaving some perimeter trees in place and constructing berms in some places.
Conveyor belts are proposed to connect separate acreages owned by Errol Doerr on Winsand Road, Doerr and Joe Klopp on State Highway 121, and Doerr and John Birtzer on County Road BB. The township asked that these conveyors be kept at least 125 feet from dwellings on adjacent properties, to minimize exposure to dust of residents of those properties.
Wabasha is listed as another potential destination for the mine's sand. The 200 truckloads proposed would be equivalent to 400 truck trips to Winona, Wabasha, or divided between the two locations.
River Valley Sand paid a $13,500 permit application fee to have a permit for the mine considered by Buffalo County.
Keep reading the Winona Post for more information on the time and location of the Buffalo County Zoning Committee meeting.