Counter to erroneous reports by at least one local media outlet, Winona County's first new permitted frac sand mine has not been cleared by county officials to begin mining activities. Instead, Winona County Planning Commission members heard an update Thursday on the mine operator's progress in obtaining other required permits and county agreements, the commissioners learned there is still much work to be done before the Nisbit mine site will get final approval from the county to begin mining silica sand.
Nisbit mine operators must still obtain a stack of permits from state and federal agencies, and must sign a road use agreement with the county, which has yet to be finalized. One of the 37 conditions of the mine permit requires that all of the other necessary state and federal permits be in hand, and on file with the county, before the mine may begin operating. Winona County Planning and Environmental Services Director Jason Gilman said that when the road use agreement is finalized, it will be presented to the County Board for review and signatures. After the county has seen proof that the mine operator has obtained all of the other necessary permits, including a national pollutant elimination system permit and a state air emissions permit, Gilman said he would send an official letter to the mine operator stating the project could commence operation. Proof of financial guarantees for reclamation and road repairs must also be provided to the county. Gilman said Friday that it appeared as though the state approval process may take weeks.
The 19.2-acre mine is the first new mine to obtain a Winona County conditional use permit (CUP) to mine frac sand for use in the natural gas and oil industry. The mine 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.
County approval of the mine has been challenged twice by citizen groups. The county's decision that an environmental assessment worksheet was a sufficient environmental review, and that the mine operator did not have to prepare an environmental impact statement, was challenged in court. Earlier this month, another citizen group filed an appeal against the County Board's decision to issue the mine a CUP. Both appeals are still pending.