The Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (EQB) voted this week to remove the Erickson silica sand mine in Houston County from the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) required on the multi-site Minnesota Sands, LLC, frac sand mining project. At the same meeting, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Commissioner made it clear that the mine requires a DNR Silica Sand Mining Trout Stream Setback Permit.
The owner of the Erickson silica sand mine claims that he no longer has a business relationship with Minnesota Sands, LLC, and should be removed from the multi-site Environmental Impact Statement ordered on the company’s proposed frac sand mines. The Land Stewardship Project and others asked the EQB that, if it was to take this step and remove the Erickson mine from the EIS, it then clarify what the status of environmental review on the Erickson mine is. (For specifics, see the e-mail LSP sent to EQB members and staff last week.) The EQB first took up the issue at their last meeting and tabled it.
LSP member Marilyn Frauenkron Bayer of Houston County laid out the facts in testimony at the meeting. Before the Erickson silica sand mine was incorporated into the Minnesota Sands EIS, it was undergoing environmental review of its own in the form of an Environmental Assessment Worksheet. This was the result of a citizens’ petition. This review was never completed and still must be completed before the project can go forward. Citizens and LSP were asking the EQB, as the agency responsible for overseeing environmental review rules, to clarify the requirement. This is particularly important because Houston County has shown a willingness to flout the law. (Video of the EQB meeting, including Marilyn Frauenkron Bayer’s testimony, is here.)
However, the EQB, led by Chair Dave Frederickson (Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture), chose to look only at the narrow question of whether the project is in or out of the EIS. The board answered only the question brought by frac special interests and failed to address the question asked by citizens. This is a failure to vigorously guard the integrity of the environmental review process, which is the EQB’s mandate.
DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr did, however, clarify at the meeting that the Erickson silica sand mine requires a DNR Silica Sand Mining Trout Stream Setback Permit. No mining of silica sand may take place at a site within a mile of a designated trout stream in southeastern Minnesota unless the DNR decides to grant this special permit. And the issuing of such a permits requires a lengthy process, including a hydrogeologic evaluation and at least one year of pre-application monitoring.
Mine owner Tracie Erickson attended the EQB meeting, but when asked if he wanted to testify, he deferred to Jay Squires, the attorney hired to represent Houston County in this matter. It was clear from Jay Squires’ testimony that he was speaking for the interests of Tracie Erickson and for those Houston County staff and officials who have been pushing for the mine to be permitted. His comments did not represent the wider interests of the citizens of the county.
The next step in the Erickson silica sand mine case is a court hearing on the writ of mandamus filed by citizens to block approval of the mine; see sidebar for details.
LSP organizer Johanna Rupprecht can be contacted via e-mail or at 507-523-3366.