On July 1, a group of 12 Winona County citizens filed a court appeal of the County Board’s June 2013 decision to issue a conditional use permit (CUP) for the Dave and Sherry Nisbit silica sand mine in Saratoga Township.
The first and only new mine to receive a CUP in Winona County following the moratorium on new mines that expired in 2012, the Nisbit mine approval process was subject to court action from a citizen group in the past. The Winona County Board determined the 19.2-acre mine would not need an environmental impact statement (EIS) study, and the same 12 citizens appealed that decision in May. Both appeals are awaiting a court ruling.
The sand, also referred to as “frac sand,” is used in the hydraulic fracturing process in other parts of the country to extract oil and natural gas. The hard grains of sand are mixed with chemicals and water and blasted into shale rock formations, fracturing the rock. The sand enters the new fissures created and holds the cracks open so that the oil or gas can be harvested. Southeastern Minnesota and Western Wisconsin have many deposits of the kind of sand needed for the process, and in many places, the deposits are close enough to the surface to be easily extracted.
The demand for new sand mines has drawn concern from some residents who fear the mining activity could negatively affect air and water quality, and that the diesel exhaust emitted from semitrailers that haul the sand could also negatively affect air quality. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Health have both called for studies of the potential cumulative impact of multiple new mine proposals in the area. Others have advocated for the approval of reasonable new mine plans as a way to boost economic growth and provide new jobs in the region.
The operation is expected to operate for three years, after which the area will be seeded as pasture land. The mine will generate up to 140 semitrailer trucks per day from the site in Saratoga Township, and is expected to remove about 203,000 cubic yards of material in its first phase and 492,000 cubic yards of sand in its second phase. The trucks will travel along County Road 113 to County Road 33, then on Highway 14 and into the city of Winona. From Highway 14, the trucks will turn onto Old Goodview Road to a processing facility owned by Bob Hemker.
According to Johanna Rupprecht of the Land Stewardship Project, if both of the citizen appeals to the Nisbit project are successful, the mine CUP would be revoked until the EIS were completed.
Pauline Nisbit Connaughty, who lives near the Nisbit mine site, is one of the citizens who appealed the CUP for the mine. “We believe the Winona County Board’s decision to award the permit despite strong public opposition jeopardizes the health, safety and welfare of county residents,” she said. “The county really needs to go through all of the steps and precautions necessary so that we know what we’re getting into before we get into it. We’re all in this together; let’s not forget, we all drink the same water and we all breathe the same air.”
Jeff Broberg, consultant for the Nisbit mine project, said he believed the appeal was without merit, adding that the Nisbit CUP process followed the provisions contained within the county’s zoning ordinance. “We think it’s all valid, so I think they’re wasting their time and their money,” he said.
Broberg said Nisbit mine representatives are preparing paperwork to present later this month to the Winona County Planning Commission regarding other required permits and documents. Once the Planning Commission has reviewed the documents, Broberg said the mine will be ready to begin operating.