Over two years after Dave and Sherry Nisbit first sought a permit to mine silica sand on their 19.2-acre Saratoga Township parcel, mining partners Tom Rowekamp and Ivey Popplewell fired up their backhoe last Thursday.
Photo by Chris Rogers
Tom Rowekamp (right) and Ivey Popplewell (left) began work on the Nisbit sand mine in Saratoga Township last week.
The Nisbit mine was fought vigorously by frac sand opponents, who are currently challenging in appeals court the Winona County Board's split-vote decision not to require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project.
"We were the first ones to get our permit in; we lived through the moratorium," said Popplewell, tugging on his ball cap to block the autumn sun as he took a break from preparing a new access road to the mine site.
"It's been a long time coming," Rowekamp said, leaning up against the dirt-smeared treads of his backhoe to face the neighboring bean fields. "We're awfully glad. But if anybody has any problems with our operation, please, contact us and we'll try to straighten it out."
Rowekamp appeared before the County Board last Tuesday to announce he had fulfilled the conditions of his permit and would open the mine. "I thought it was a good idea to come to the board and let you know," he told commissioners.
That attitude may have helped Rowekamp and Popplewell succeed where other mine proposals hit governmental snags. The comparatively small size of the mine, the fact that washing will not occur at the site, its position above the water table, and plans for reclamation also contributed to its palatability, Rowekamp reflected. "It's our goal to show Winona County that this can be done safely and responsibly," he said.
Constructing a new access road to replace the existing blind driveway is one of the first steps for the mine. That should be done in two weeks, Popplewell and Rowekamp said. Then the mine will be fully up and running. The operators said they would haul their first load sooner, however. "We have a customer who needs bedding sand because the Potter pit closed," Rowekamp said, referring to a recently-closed provider of sand used for bedding in dairy operations.
For now, business at the Nisbit mine will be modest. "Me, Ivey, Ivey's son," and maybe a couple other truck drivers will round out the mine crew, Rowekamp said. "There's a lot of drivers that would love to haul sand," and the company intends to employ more as demand for sand picks up.
Demand for sand for use in the hydraulic "fracking" for oil and natural gas "is in a lull right now, but it's going to increase," Rowekamp said. In the meantime, Rowekamp and Popplewell are excited about the dairy bedding market. Their sand will be bacteria-free, unlike dredge sand, which can sometimes cause mastitis, or udder infections, they said. Popplewell cracked, "It's golf-course quality sand."
At the Nisbit site, sand is near the surface, making reclamation easier, Rowekamp said. "It's going to be relatively simple. We'll push all the soil into a berm over here," he gestured to a low spot. "and pull it back when we're finished."
"Everyone is afraid we're going to scar the land," he continued. " We live here, too. We don't want to do anything that will harm the land."
The Nisbit mine is permitted for up to 140 semitrailer truck trips per day and is expected to remove nearly 700,000 cubic yards of material in two phases over three years. Trucks will haul the sand along county roads 113 and 33 and Highway 14 to Bob Hemker's washing and processing facility on Old Goodview Road. The operators will pay Winona County 22.5 cents per ton per mile for the road use.