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Report, Monday, Sept. 16, 2013 Johanna Rupprecht, Policy Organizer, Land Stewardship Project: Today, LSP is releasing a report we’ve compiled from the comments of 100 people who participated in a meeting we held in Rushford, Minnesota this July. The People’s EIS Scoping Report describes the issues that southeast Minnesota citizens say must be included in the Environmental Impact Statement soon to be done on a major frac sand mining proposal. The project is proposed by a company known as Minnesota Sands, LLC. It includes 11 proposed mines in Fillmore, Houston and Winona counties, totaling over 600 acres. Because of the project’s size, the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is mandatory and must be completed before any government units can make their decisions on whether to issue permits for any part of the project. In March, the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (EQB), a state agency, took charge of the EIS. But since then, there’s been little to no communication from the EQB to the public here in southeast Minnesota about the status or progress of this environmental review. That’s deeply troubling to many people. We need this EIS to be a public process from the very start, done in the public interest. The people who would be directly facing the impacts of this proposed project need to have a say in how those impacts are going to be studied. That’s the purpose of this report we’re releasing today. As described in the report, citizens of Fillmore, Houston and Winona counties are very concerned about this proposed mining project’s potential impacts on air, water, land, transportation, economics, and quality of life. Local people also says that the EIS needs to be carried out by independent experts without ties to the frac sand industry, and that the EQB needs to require full disclosure of the identity and track record of Minnesota Sands, LLC. Marilyn Frauenkron Bayer, LSP member: My name is Marilyn Frauenkron Bayer. I am part of a seven generation family in Houston County, and I live near several of the proposed Minnesota Sands mines in Houston Township. I have serious concerns about the impacts this major frac sand mining proposal would have on our water here in Southeast Minnesota. At the meeting in Rushford, many other Houston, Fillmore and Winona county residents were also raising the same concerns.
They are outlined in the report being released today. We need the Environmental Quality Board to take these issues as seriously as we, the affected people, do. Everybody drinks and uses water. Everybody. So it’s not hard to see why this issue is so fundamental. When we have a good, clean water source, we tend to take it for granted that it’s always going to be there. But frac sand mining is a very significant threat to Southeast Minnesota’s drinking water. Our water is filtered through the sand layers frac sand companies want to remove, as well as the rock layers above them. This is the top of our aquifer! Disrupting this intricate system with industrial-scale frac sand mining, especially here in our delicate karst region, could have horrendous consequences. The Environmental Impact Statement on the Minnesota Sands project needs to include a comprehensive, detailed analysis of these 11 proposed mines’ potential impacts on our groundwater. It needs to be based on solid, independent science. The EIS is a chance to gather the information our local governments need to make good decisions about whether this industry is safe for our communities. The EIS also needs to take into account the potential impacts of storm water and waste water runoff from the mines. On August 18th, 2007, seventeen inches of rain fell in 24 hours in this area causing massive amounts of damage. This June, Houston County experienced severe flooding causing almost six million dollars worth of damage. How much worse would the damage have been for neighbors if the rains had swept frac sand sludge, perhaps contaminated with chemicals, onto their property? Those incidents have already happened at multiple frac sand mines in Wisconsin. Heavy rain events are becoming more frequent, so this question is not hypothetical. The EQB needs to make sure it is studied in the EIS on these mines. Finally, I also feel very strongly the impacts of frac sand mining on this fragile Driftless Area landscape itself need to be included within the scope of the EIS. This industry would destroy bluffs and hills even the glaciers left untouched. The damage to our unique, beautiful landscape, our heritage, would undoubtedly harm the quality of life of local people, much less this fragile ecosystem, currently having the largest biodiversity in the entire state of Minnesota; it is major impact deserving serious consideration. Vince Ready, LSP member: My name is Vince Ready. I’m a retired nurse and I have a small farm in Saratoga Township, Winona County, south of Saint Charles. I live just a few miles from several of the sites where Minnesota Sands proposes to mine frac sand. At the meeting in Rushford this summer I had the opportunity to meet more people from neighboring counties who would also be directly affected by these 11 proposed mines. I found that we all share many of the same concerns, which have now been compiled in this report. The Environmental Quality Board needs to make sure this study is in-depth, unbiased, and thorough – so I became even more concerned last week when the EQB released some draft model standards for frac sand mining which are quite weak. They don’t represent the kind of rigorous work that we are going to need in the EIS.
My first concern is the distance of setbacks. One hundred feet from my fence line – the setback in the EQB’s draft – for the proposed mining activity would be incompatible with raising cattle. Currently we are an entirely agricultural community and cornfields, pastures, woodlands are the predominant land use. I would not be able to live here with that close proximity of a silica production enterprise. When I see the activity at a silica mine (and I have) in Wisconsin, the dust, noise and traffic has a much more significant impact than most people realize. First the dust is both unhealthy and a nuisance. The finer dust is a known carcinogen and has not been adequately measured or controlled in this type of setting (mining activity adjacent to residential and agricultural settings). We have seen the lack of dust control in the mines that are active in Wisconsin. It is on the roadways in some areas like snow and permeates living areas and properties of neighbors to the mines. I worry about both the visible dust that we are aware of and the invisible pollen sized dust that is harmful to our lungs and our immune systems. Nothing I am talking about is simply theoretical. The Minnesota Department of Health has a document available discussing the known hazards of the mining activity. There is an abundance of research that bears out the health risks. There is no study by anyone anywhere that points to any health benefit to silica mining. The EIS needs to seriously look into the negative health impacts people here would face from this particular mining proposal. The noise that would be present for thirteen hours a day, six days a week, under the EQB’s draft standards, is not what any one would want from a neighbor in a rural community. There is no equivalent activity in any rural community in SE Minnesota at this time. The closest comparison would be harvest activity, which only lasts a few days a year. At this time, our aggregate mines operate a few hours a day on weekdays and are usually not noticeable. The EIS has to include an in-depth study of how the noise from Minnesota Sands’ frac sand mining and trucking would negatively impact our communities. The company has said that the mines proposed in our area would generate as many as 600 truck trips a day per mine. If all the mines proposed were to be operational in this area, we would no longer live in a rural/agricultural community. We would be living in a heavy industry setting that would be difficult and possibly harmful for livestock, crop production. I worry about my health, my family’s welfare, the health of my animals, our food supply. I need the EQB, as public officials, to be looking out for the best interests of me and my community when they are studying the impacts of this frac sand proposal. Bonita Underbakke, LSP member: I’m Bonita Underbakke. I was born and raised in bluff country and returned to live in rural Fillmore County, on a tree farm near Lanesboro. Like many other southeast Minnesota people, I’m concerned not only about the environmental impacts of frac sand mining, but also about the economic impacts. The EIS on the Minnesota Sands proposal needs to take a very serious and in-depth look at all of those impacts.
Southeast Minnesotans understand that the frac sand industry ultimately benefits oil and gas corporations, not our local communities. We’re concerned about the impacts on our existing economic drivers like agriculture and tourism. We need the EIS to include, at minimum, a thorough study of the proposed project’s impacts on our existing agricultural economy and on our existing tourism economy. Just in Fillmore County, tourism generates $18.7 million in gross sales and $1.3 million sales tax annually, according to the MN Department of Revenue in 2010. That means employment and income for many local people. What will happen if frac sand mining destroys the qualities that draw visitors to this area? The EIS needs to carefully study the employment impacts of the mining proposal. For any jobs that might come with the project, we need to know how many there would be; what kind of hours, wages and benefits they would have; how long they would last; and whether they would really be made available to local people. And we also need the EIS to look at how many jobs would be lost due to frac sand mining’s negative impacts on our existing local economies. Another very significant economic impact of this proposal is on property values. People who live or own property near the proposed mine sites or along the trucking routes, which would see hundreds of frac sand truck trips per day, are extremely concerned about how this industrial activity would damage the value of their property. This impact also has to be considered thoroughly in the EIS.
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