The Winona County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday not to require an intensive environmental review for the Nisbit mine in Saratoga Township, clearing the way for the applicants to proceed with permit approval.
Commissioner Marcia Ward, who voted along with commissioners Steve Jacob and Wayne Valentine against requiring the review, warned that the decision shouldn’t be seen as an endorsement of frac sand mining in the county.
“One mine is not a rubber stamp to do mass mining in southeast Minnesota,” Ward said.
Commissioners Greg Olson and Jim Pomeroy argued that the county should have required what’s known as an Environmental Impact Statement.
“We’ve got several state agencies, including the department of health, that say, you know, you really need an EIS on this because of cumulative impact,” Pomeroy said. “I know a lot of people will find fault with that, but at the same time, what we’re talking about is an emerging, huge industry.”
About 10 people spoke both for and against the mine at a public comment session prior to the vote.
“Please take this into your own hands, use the local control you have and do not require an EIS,” said Don Evanson, a member of the county’s planning commission.
Some attendees said they weren’t convinced the mine’s Environmental Assessment Worksheet — the state’s other, less-intensive review process for developments — adequately assesses potential effects.
“You are indeed setting a precedent here,” Fillmore county resident Rita LeDuc said. “I’m concerned about the cumulative long-term effects that these projects may have.”
The proposed 20-acre mine site is located outside Utica on land owned by David and Sherry Nisbit. The site lies on the north side of Gethje Lane, a dead-end private road. Current plans call for about 200,000 tons of sand to be removed each year for about three years, at which time the commercially available sand is expected to be exhausted. The mined area will be recovered with topsoil and planted to native prairie.
The project dates back to September 2011, when the initial permit was filed. That application was denied after the county approved a three-month moratorium in early 2012, and a second application was resubmitted after the moratorium ended in May. The county’s planning commission recommended approval in August 2012, but a group of residents successfully petitioned for the Environmental Assessment Worksheet to be prepared.
The county’s planning commission recommended March 21 that the county not require the EIS. At Tuesday’s meeting, Jacob noted that the local farm bureau also recommended against an EIS.
The state feels differently.
In February, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Health called for the project to be added to a sweeping EIS on several mines in both Winona and Fillmore counties, in order to study the potential cumulative impacts of the mines on air and water quality, truck traffic and other issues.
Minnesota Sands LLC announced in February that it will voluntarily conduct an EIS on two of those proposed mines it would operate in Winona County, as well as four of its proposed mines in Fillmore County.
In late March, the MPCA recommended a fifth mine in Fillmore County to be added to the EIS.
The conditional-use permit for the Nisbit mine isn’t expected to come before the county’s planning commission until May at the earliest.