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Minnesota county gives green light to silica sand mine

June 07, 2013
KEYWORDS mining / silica
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silica mine
Photo credit: Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock

Winona County commissioners have approved a conditional use permit for the first operation to mine silica sand in the Minnesota county, despite concerns that operations may have a negative impact on the environment and demands that the state should require a more thorough review of the mine's environmental impact, according to Minnesota Public Radio.

The board voted in favor of the mine with a 3-2 majority, after it had rejected a proposal to suspend the permit until after a state appeal court hears from a group of local residents who are appealing an earlier board decision that ruled a full environmental review was not necessary. Commissioners Steve Jacob, Marcia Ward and Wayne Valentine supported issuing the permit, while Greg Olson and James Pomeroy voted against it.

The first silica sand mine in the region, Nisbit mine, will cover an area of 19 acres in Saratoga Township, with not more than five acres being quarried at a time. However, the mine cannot start operations for another couple of months as its owners have to finish all the required paperwork. According to county planning director Jason Gilman, Nisbit has to meet a set of 40 additional conditions before it can open, including a stormwater management plan, performance bond and road impact agreement approval by attorneys. Other requirements concern the control of dust, noise, erosion and water quality in the area. Nisbit will also have to wait for the completion of the appeal court case, Minnesota Public Radio said.

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Plans for the mine state that silica sand used for fracking will be mined for a period of three years. Following this period, the sand will be used for cattle breeding. At the end of the mining operations the area will be converted to prairie. It is estimated that an average of 240 truck trips will be made in and out of the quarry on a daily basis, with a maximum of 280 allowed. Mining will not take place within 1,000 feet of the closest residential area and groundwater will be regularly inspected, the plans state. If blasts are to take place at the mine they should be approved by the county, with the maximum allowed number of blasts per year pegged at three.

The Nisbit mine is just one of three quarries that have been planned for the area and are currently awaiting approval from the county. The two other mines are the Yoder and Dabelstein sites, which are significantly larger than Nisbit and are currently going through full environmental assessment. Gilman noted that approving the permit for Nisbit does not automatically mean that the same would happen for the Yoder and Dabelstein mines. The board decision is not precedent-setting and all three plans will be considered on their individual merits, he stated.

Many campaigners claim that it is unreasonable to allow operations at the site before the court's decision is announced. If the court eventually decides that the work cannot be started before a full environmental review has been completed, Nisbit will be closed anyway.

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