The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 18, 2013

Legislative frac sand hearing draws local interest

By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — When the Legislature today convenes its first hearings on the environmental impacts of silica sand mining, much of the focus will be on proposed projects in southeast Minnesota.

But about 20 Mankato-area residents plan to make the trip to St. Paul to learn more and, in one case, testify about the Jordan Sands project just north of the city.

Beth Proctor, a 3rd Avenue resident, will ask the legislators to impose a moratorium on silica sand mining while the state investigates

how these types of mines affect air, water and traffic.

She said she’s going to focus on what makes the Jordan Sands project different — its effects on drinking water.

Proctor said other mines stay above water-filled layers of rock, called aquifers. In Lime Township, by comparison, the company proposes to dig up part of the Jordan Aquifer itself, she said.

“The issue is not construction mining,” she said, referring to the area’s long tradition of rock mining. “It’s mining in our drinking water.”

Jordan Sands, a Coughlan Companies affialiate, is seeking permits to build a sand mining factory, which could employ 40 people and 30 additional subcontractors. The popularity of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” by the oil and natural gas industries has caused demand for silica sand to skyrocket.

Some nearby residents have organized to either oppose the project or seek that limitations be placed upon it. During the evening of Feb. 10, about 16 people joined Darla and Lynn Austin at their 3rd Avenue home to talk strategy.

The next day, the group mailed about 400 letters to township residents asking them to contact their legislators.

Though they believe the microscopic sand particles would be harmful, they are focusing on the impacts to water during today’s legislative hearing.

Proctor, a Minnesota State University professor, appears to have the most thorough technical understanding of the proposed mine among the residents, though none are experts in sand mining.

The same can be said of the Lime Township Township Board, which is will likely be faced this spring with the task of deciding whether or not to approve the mine.

“A lot of us small communities and townships lack the financial ability to do in-depth studies and regulations,” Township Chair Karl Friedrichs said. “We have to rely on state agencies.”

That’s one of the issues to be considered at the legislature: Do the lack of regulations at the state level put unrealistic burden on local governments?

“If the state would choose to adopt guidelines and provide guidance, it would certainly be considered and useful to the township,” Friedrich said.

A standard for how much silica sand particles of a certain size can be in the air would be near the top of that list. 

Proctor has been communicating with state agencies such as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to see what existing standards there are for silica mining. In a letter to state legislators, she said the lack of rules is “scary.”

But even if the state decided to enact a moratorium on silica sand mining, would it affect the Jordan Sands project?

The answer appears to be yes, depending on when the moratorium is effective. The township is unlikely to consider the conditional use permit, the final stage in the process, until late April, at the very earliest.

Before that, however, the township board has to decide whether or not to order a lengthy environmental study, likely during its March 19 meeting. Proctor has urged the board to order the study.