MANKATO -- It was called a "Neighborhood Open House," and the invitations sent by Jordan Sands began with the salutation "Dear Neighbor," but many of the dozens of people on hand clearly wished that the folks next door would drop plans for the big addition they're planning to construct this fall.
Jordan Sands is nearing approval on the final permits needed to construct a silica sand mining and processing operation just north of Mankato. Many of the affected residents and local environmentalists who came to the Caledonia Community Center Thursday night arrived with questions and skepticism but also with typical southern Minnesota civility and a sense of resignation that the project was going forward whether they liked it or not.
"There's nothing that's going to stop it," said Henry Quade, the retired director of the Water Resources Center at Minnesota State University and a decades-long advocate for conservation and protection of Minnesota's water. "It's political, economic, everything else. But we need to do it in a responsible way."
The growth in mining of silica sand has followed the rapid increase in the use of "fracking" to extract natural gas. The tiny, hard spherical grains of sand, when injected into rock deep underground, are integral in the hydraulic fracturing process used to release natural gas and oil.
While Silica sand, also used in glass and concrete production, has been mined for about 30 years by the UNIMIN plants in the Kasota and Ottawa areas, new mines have been cropping up in Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota despite virulent opposition in those areas. The Jordan Sands plan brings the controversy to Mankato, where some of the proposed mining will occur, and to neighboring Lime Township, where mining, washing and processing of the sand will occur.
"We have to be skeptical. We have to ask questions, always, on these issues," said Quade, adding that he's choosing not to formally oppose the project. "I'm retired now. Let the youngsters take over."