By Tim Krohn
---- — MANKATO — One of the oldest businesses in Mankato has closed as the recession-driven slowdown in construction hurt the market for local limestone.
"This has been very difficult," said Robert Coughlan of Mankato Kasota Stone. "I'm the fourth generation of our family to do this. We kept it (open) probably longer than we should have just for sentimental reasons."
More than two dozen employees have been either laid off or have found work with another Coughlan family business, Capstone Press.
Coughlan said he hopes to bring at least some of the other employees back when the family gets its Jordan Sands company up and running, perhaps by next spring.
"The plan always had been to just transition the employees into Jordan Sands," he said. But getting approvals for the sometimes controversial Jordan Sands silica sand project took much longer than anticipated, he said.
Local Kasota stone has long been prized for its yellow-pink color variations and used extensively in constructing buildings or as facades on buildings around the world. "The market has been very bad in recent years. Since 2009 it's been very slow," Coughlan said of the downturn in construction.
He said the plant, located on Willow Street, off of Riverfront Drive, will be mothballed. Coughlan said another company may be interested in taking over the quarry.
The Mankato Kasota Stone quarries are largely unseen by residents but are situated in Mankato. The edge of one quarry runs along Third Avenue, just beyond a row of trees along the side of the road.
The Coughlans have been moving through a protracted and sometimes contentious approval process for its new Jordan Sands business. The operation will mine silica sand from quarries in Mankato and neighboring Lime Township.
The growth in mining 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. Silica sand has been mined by UNIMIN plants in Kasota and Ottawa for 30 years. No fracking is being done or planned in this area.
Some residents and neighbors of the proposed silica operation have raised numerous concerns about silica mining and processing, including affects on wells, truck traffic and possible effects from any blowing sand. After a series of hearings and reviews, Jordan Sands is poised to get a few final permits and begin construction of a plant this fall. Coughlan said they hope to have the business operational early next year.
The 125-year-old Mankato Kasota Stone was founded by Irish mason T.R. Coughlan, who immigrated to Canada and worked building railway bridges.
He heard about dolomitic limestone deposits in the Minnesota River Valley and arrived in Mankato in 1885 to strike his claim. He found a site that had three distinct veins of dolomite, offering a variety of warm colors and began a quarry that provided Mankato Kasota stone for local buildings, sidewalk pavers, curbs and bridges.
The Coughlan company continued operating the quarry with Robert and James Coughlan purchasing the property from their father in 1983, reconditioning and updating equipment.
Besides cutting dimensional stone from the quarries for building construction, Coughlan also leases quarry space to a company that breaks stone into aggregate. That operation continues.
Mining is Mankato's oldest industry, with the first quarry opening just a year after the town was founded in 1858.
The closing of Mankato Kasota Stone leaves only Vetter Stone among what was once an industry with several locally run quarries in town. Vetter is a major supplier of stone for buildings across the country and around the world, including the Smithsonian's recently built National Museum of the American Indian.
Cold Spring Granite does lease some quarry land in the area but sends the stone to its Cold Spring plant.