MANKATO — Lime Township’s next decision on the Jordan Sands silica sand mining project has been delayed until May after the company asked for 60 extra days to respond to public comments on an environmental study.
Jordan Sands asked for the delay to thoroughly answer questions about the study, CEO Scott Sustacek said.
“We think we can cover all the comments and questions that came up,” he said.
Fifty-two people and agencies submitted more than 130 pages of comments on the study, said Beth Proctor, a 3rd Avenue resident who lives near the proposed mine.
During its March 5 work session, the Lime Township Board agreed to the extension to give Jordan Sands time to adequately respond to issues raised in the public comments, Board Chair Karl Friedrichs said. The board’s next step is to decide whether or not the existing environmental study is sufficient or whether a much lengthier study is needed.
The initial deadline for the board’s decision was 30 days after the comment period ended, on Feb. 21, and the 60-day extension gives them until the board’s May 14 meeting.
“We need good information for us as a board to make a decision and analyze which way to move forward on the issue,” Board Chair Karl Friedrichs said. He said the length of the extension was agreed upon by the board and the company, though it could be extended further.
Friedrichs said he is “95 percent” sure that a decision won’t happen until the board’s May meeting.
It’s in the company’s best interests to thoroughly answer questions and problems raised about the study. If the board believes there are too many unsettled environmental questions, it is more likely to order the lengthier study.
State agencies such as the Department of Health, the Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources joined the public in submitting comments on the study.
The health department’s 10-page comment focuses on the potential for groundwater contamination at the site, just north of Mankato. It says the existing study doesn’t provide enough information regarding water and chemical use to evaluate its risk on nearby wells. The response also says the study doesn’t provide enough information to determine whether the company’s proposal for monitoring wells is sufficient.
“It appears that no coherent strategy has been developed for monitoring potential water quality impacts at this project,” the document states.
These comments, along with others, include technical elements beyond the ability of a layman to interpret. For example, it recommends that the study be updated to include “the projected polymer and monomer concentrations in the process water.”
The township’s consultant, Dean Johnson, has hired engineers from WSB & Associates, a Minneapolis company, to help him and the township board understand technical issues, Friedrichs said.
Friedrichs said he was confident that the board has enough expertise.
The board will pay for these consultants, but it will be fully reimbursed by Jordan Sands, Friedrichs said.
Lynn Austin, another 3rd Avenue resident, said he hopes the delay will give the state time to implement more-stringent environmental standards, especially on airborne silica sand particles.
One bill in the state Senate would establish a one-year moratorium on silica sand mines.
Proctor said she is concerned that the public and the board won’t have much time to review Jordan Sands’ comments before the board’s May 14 meeting.
Friedrichs said the board wants the company’s comments in early May. If not, the board will probably ask for another extension, he said.
“Or they may have to deal with us making a decision on what could be a bit of a shortage of information,” Friedrichs said.
This, again, suggests the company will be thorough in its responses or risk the board ordering the longer study.