This summer, I was one of 100 people from southeast Minnesota who participated in a meeting hosted by the Land Stewardship Project in Rushford. As someone who’s been paying close attention to the issue of frac sand mining for two years or more, I knew this would be a meeting I couldn’t miss. It was a chance for local residents to speak up about what needs to be included in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) being done by the state on a huge frac sand mining proposal for the area.
As I listened to the other people at my table that night in Rushford, it was obvious that I’m not the only one who’s been paying attention. So many people there had also been involved with this issue from the beginning. The room was filled with knowledge. We never wanted to have to become experts on frac sand mining and what it would do to southeast Minnesota, but at this point, that’s what we are.
The project proposed by a company calling itself Minnesota Sands, LLC, would include two mines in Winona County, four in Fillmore County, and five in Houston County. We came together that night to tell the state Environmental Quality Board (EQB) that, as it begins to study the impacts of this project on our environment, communities and lives, it needs to be listening to the people who would be impacted.
Right now these mines are only a proposal — they don’t have to be allowed. The purpose of the EIS is not to attempt to find a way to make the mining work — it’s about gathering the information we need to decide whether this project should happen at all.
Based on everything we know so far, including what we’ve learned from looking at what the frac sand industry has done to rural communities in Wisconsin, many of us don’t believe this industry is right for southeast Minnesota. But we still have many unanswered questions. The EIS is a chance to pause and try to find more answers before any of our communities make decisions about permitting these mines.
I need to know that members of the EQB, as public servants, are going to apply themselves as wholeheartedly and intensely to this work as we citizens already have, and that they’re going to treat us like the experts we are.
All of our comments from the meeting in Rushford were gathered and compiled into a report recently released by Land Stewardship Project. The People’s EIS Scoping Report: Citizen Comments on the Necessary Scope and Depth of the Environmental Impact Statement on the Minnesota Sands Frac Sand Proposal is now available online. Copies have been presented to the EQB and to Governor Mark Dayton and are also being shared with other state and local officials.
I try to look at the big picture of what frac sand mining would mean in southeast Minnesota, and it’s clear that the other people I met in Rushford do, too. The report contains our comments on a wide range of the issues we’re concerned about and need to see studied in depth in the EIS: air and water pollution, destruction of land, transportation impacts, impacts on our local economies and our quality of life. We clearly need the EQB to start with collecting baseline data on air quality, water quality, health issues, as well as in other categories; I believe you shouldn’t make any decisions without knowing what you have at the beginning.
I’m extremely concerned about what this mining would do to our groundwater filtration system. Our water is more precious than we really comprehend. We can’t destroy our aquifers and keep thinking we’ll be able to dig deeper and find good water. We can’t destroy our land, either — no amount of reclamation after mining would ever bring these places back to provide habitat like they do now. We shouldn’t think that animals, birds and insects displaced can just automatically find someplace else to live. And along with studying all these and many other impacts, we also need full disclosure from Minnesota Sands on exactly who they are and exactly what they want to do.
The EIS process is just beginning, and it might be that we will also need the EQB to study other impacts that haven’t been raised yet. This report could turn out to be just the minimum of what a comprehensive EIS needs to include. The most important thing is that local people, those of us who live here and are the caretakers of this land, have a say in the process from start to finish.
LSP member Barb Nelson lives in rural Lewiston, Minn.