MANKATO — It’s not often that a Mankato Planning Commission meeting draws a full house, but that happened Wednesday evening as dozens turned out to watch a proposed silica sand mining and processing operation clear its last hurdle for local approval.
After hearing from the operation’s planners and opponents members of the commission approved a conditional use permit for Jordan Sands, an affiliate of Coughlan Companies that is planning to mine 70 acres and use another 40 acres for processing the sand. The property is just north of the city limits on Third Avenue.
No one voted against the permit, but one commissioner, Mark Luepke, abstained. He said approving the plan would be like “swallowing a poison pill” and that any new jobs didn’t justify possible environmental concerns.
Silaca sand that will be mined from the site, if the project gets final clearances from state agencies such as the Department of Natural Resources, is of the quality that is sought by businesses that use a process called “fracking” to release natural gas and oil from the ground. The process of injecting sand into the ground through hydraulic fracturing, the technical term for fracking, isn’t taking place in this region.
There was actually very little the Planning Commission could do even if a majority of its members wanted to look into the proposal more or deny it. The Lime Township Board had already approved the permit earlier this month after more than a year of public hearings that hammered out a plan that created restrictions to protect air and water quality and monitor new truck traffic on the already busy road.
Under the terms of a 1997 annexation agreement between the city and Lime Township, the commission was required to approve the permit as long as it didn’t violate the terms of that agreement or the township’s zoning ordinances. The township board found Jordan Sands’ proposal doesn’t violate mining or manufacturing ordinances. City staff told commissioners they agreed with that assessment.
The area where the mine and processing facilities would be is just north of the city’s Sakatah Industrial Park around Pilgrims Rest Cemetery. Portions of the property are adjacent to the Southern Minnesota Construction landfill that city residents use to dump yard waste. Other products have been mined from the properties for decades.
Sand will be transported from that mine and other mines in the area to a facility on the west side of Third Avenue that will be used to wash it and turn it into a slurry. An underground piping system will be used during warmer months to transfer the slurry from the wet plant to a drying facility on the east side of the road. Trucks will be used to ship the slurry when temperatures are too cold to use the pipe system.
Preliminary plans provided to Lime Township by Jordan Sands said the business expected to start construction of its wet plant in September and have it completed by March 2014. Those plans have likely been pushed back a bit, however, because the business also expected to have conditional use permits finalized by June when the plans were created. It’s estimated that both plants will have an operation life of 50 years.
Most of the people who spoke against the project told commissioners they understood they had little chance of stopping it. One speaker was Sarah Richards, co-owner of Jones Metal Products. She said her family-owned business has invested millions of dollars in its Sakatah Industrial Park facility and she hopes Coughlin Companies will address any concerns about air quality, blasting damage or traffic problems if they come up.