|2/15/2012 11:22:00 AM|
Silica sand mine land owner and operator ask Fillmore County to hold off on moratorium
|By Lisa Brainard|
It was time to take a look at the other side of silica sand mining during the citizens' input time at the Fillmore County Board of Commissioners meeting held Feb. 14.
There has been a large outcry for study on the impacts of proposed new silica sand mines in southeastern Minnesota. A new use for the area's St. Peter and Jordan sandstone is hydrofracturing, where it is mixed with water and chemicals and pumped into the ground in other parts of the country to open up shales to recover natural gas and oil. This process also has come to be called "fracking." The new use has often seen the silica sand termed "frac sand."
Land owner speaks
Randy Boyum of Pilot Mound Township spoke. He currently has an application for a sand mine in front of the county, which is on hold as an environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) is being completed for it. He said he spoke on behalf of himself and others who were in the audience on the same topic.
"I'm here to represent myself and three other farmers in Pilot Mound Township," stated Boyum as he started speaking.
"We have applied for or are looking to apply for (a permit to allow) extracting sand."
Boyum said the sand could be used for a variety of purposes including dairy bedding, plastic, 3M sandpaper, fracking, road fill and more. The mine extraction would be above ground only. There would be no blasting or washing. Dozers and backhoes would be used to take it out.
He shared a photo of a mine in the area, just north of I-90 in Winona County, which Boyum said was "toward the end of what they've been doing. It was taken off to ground level. Now they will be able to farm it."
He stressed he's been working with the Fillmore County Zoning Office and its administrator, Chris Graves, within the confines of county ordinances since the beginning of the application for his sand mine permit. Along with proactively doing the EAW (an environmental study called an Environmental Assessment Worksheet), he pointed out land would be set aside to be reclaimed.
"It will be farmable or used for anything. It will be in better shape, we feel, when done. There won't be holes in the ground."
Boyum noted numerous rock quarries and sandpits already operating in the county. He cited the John Rein sand mine near Highland, which has been open a few years and recently has had silica sand extracted. "I don't know of complaints there," he stated. "We feel it would be the same with ours."
Against a moratorium
Boyum also spoke to his family's life in Fillmore County. "We've been here a few years farming; we don't plan on leaving... We are also business people. We have a lot of time and money invested in this."
He continued, "A moratorium would just delay this for us."
Other counties have had them in place. He noted the year-long one in Goodhue County must almost be completed, while the three-month moratorium put in place in Winona County will be ending soon.
"We're sure they've done all their studies," stated Boyum.
He compared his pending sand mine to when the ethanol plant came to Preston. "People were concerned... but we have heard nothing... We'd be operated like all the sandpits in Fillmore County."
When asked about processing by Commissioner Chuck Amunrud, Boyum replied the sand would not be washed, but it might be dry screened. "We're looking to get started and see if it's as good as the test looked. The last guy we showed it to thought it would be good for glass, too."
Commissioner Duane Bakke replied, "We recognize pits have hauled out of here for years for various purposes... You are talking about doing things we want you to do. But we need to look at other things.
"We are moving on it quick. There are things (information) coming from other counties. We don't need to re-invent it.
"On Feb. 28 we will have a hearing here (on the moratorium issue) at 1 p.m. You need to come and get on record at the public hearing."
Then Rick Frick came from the audience to introduce himself and explain, "I am the one processing the sand and trying to get it going.... It's St. Peter sand(stone)... not all of it tests out like theirs tests out.
"It's used for many things. Frac sand is one of them."
He said while people think they can die from the dust, it's similar to corn dust.
Frick continued, "We have an environmental study going on. We thought we'd do it right away. We're working with Chris (Graves). We want to make the best case scenario with this."
Frick listed other reasons a sand mine should work well in the area of Pilot Mound Township: there are no sinkholes there nor creeks; there will be no digging in the ground but rather taking off the overburden; and they would try to utilize all the sand. He said they are looking at a railroad close to the site to try to eliminate trucking as much as possible and will attempt to use state roads.
Plus, he stated farmers want to make money and extracting sand for varying uses will create jobs.
Frick said, "We're trying to hit a market that's there. They (the land owners/farmers) have a chance to make something and keep their land. It will be no worse... they can still farm and pasture it."
He promised to bring engineers to the next meeting. Frick said, "I'm up to talk about anything."