Southern Minn. residents sound off on frac sand mining - KMSP-TV

Southern Minn. residents sound off on frac sand mining

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Though some Minnesotans don't spend much time thinking about it, others believe frac sand mining will affect every person in the state.

"This is a big deal. This will transform our landscape," said Katie Himanga, a forester and former mayor of Lake City.

Himanga joined a couple of busloads of people from the Minnesota River Valley who traveled to the state Capitol on Tuesday. Crowds gathered to discuss growing concerns about the impact of the frac sand mining boom on Minnesota's environment and air quality.

The sand is used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to get natural gas and oil out of the ground.

On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Environment and Energy and House Committee on Energy Policy held the first hearing to consider testimony on the frac sand mining industry.

"Often times these rock formations that have the silica up near the surface, they straddle county lines," said Himanga. "So, you are permitting on one side of the county line, someone else it permitting on the other side. We need someone taking a look at this entire region."

A long line of people waiting to testify at Tuesday's hearing weaved through the Capitol, and two overflow rooms were set up. All signs and posters banned from the main hearing room where Dean Flugstad testified on behalf of Trout Unlimited.

"My concerns are water quality and water quantity," said Flugstad. "If one of these mines would inundate the trout streams with sediment and chemicals, you would have a disaster -- and who is going to pick up the tab for cleaning up that stream?"

Fracking is big business in neighboring North Dakota, but a lot of the sand used is coming from Minnesota and mining companies are keen to acquire permits from local governments.

Yet, some Minnesota cities are banning mining expansion until regulations are put in place because the local governments are overwhelmed and the local residents are concerned about pollution and traffic.

"Who can answer how many Wisconsin patrons will choose not to cross our interstate bridge to have surgery at our hospital or eat at one of our many restaurants because it's not worth fighting 900 trucks running across the bridge each day just to haul sand?" asked Lynn Schoen, Wabasha City Councilwoman.

Opponents are calling for a statewide moratorium until permitting can be established.

Aside from health and environmental concerns, frac sand mines seem to pop up in some of the state's most picturesque places. That's because the same geological forces that tend to cause silica sand to accumulate underground in Minnesota, Wisconsin and northern Iowa have also created scenic landforms atop that sand.

Hay Creek is an example. It is located south of Red Wing, Minn. A mining company bought land above Highway 58, which splits two bluffs that are rich in silica sand.

The Land Stewardship Project is asking lawmakers to pass the following four-point agenda:

  1. Create strong statewide permitting standards
  2. Instate a temporary moratorium on frac sand mines
  3. Create an environmental impact statement to help set permit standards
  4. Devise permitting fees and taxes to cover the damage to roads and bridges caused by frac sand trucking.

Yet, several Minnesota sand mine owners told the packed hearing that cities like Mankato are already successfully regulating mines as they argued against state involvement.

"This area knows mining and knows how to regulate it," said Scott Sustacek, of Jordan Sands.

Critics, however, say the cost to road infrastructure and the threat of particulate pollution are simply too high for the state to ignore.

"The state needs to get involved to help us protect our home -- my home," Schoen said. "Go Minnesota."

Tuesday's hearing was simply an informational session, meaning there is no legislation on the table yet; however, a bill will be introduced next week that will allow the secretary of the Department of Natural Resources to protect sensitive land from sand mining operations.

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