This massive, multi-county frac sand proposal, backed by investors hiding their identities, threatens to give the industry a major foothold throughout southeastern Minnesota.
Minnesota Sands LLC is renewing its push to develop a large-scale frac sand operation in southeastern Minnesota. The proposers now say they want to establish a mining, processing and transportation network spanning Fillmore, Goodhue, Olmsted, Winona and perhaps Wabasha counties.
Nearly two years ago, it was made clear that Minnesota Sands would have to undergo an in-depth Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on this proposal. Up until now this review had not begun — and so the project could not move forward — because the company had not made the necessary payment to the state. But the proposal is back, bigger and worse than ever.
In late January, Minnesota Sands paid over $130,000 to the state Environmental Quality Board to begin the EIS. And on Feb. 4, the Star Tribune reported that the proposal now includes related frac sand mining, processing and transportation sites in “Winona, Fillmore, Olmsted, Goodhue, and possibly Wabasha” counties. With sites in so many counties, this is by far the largest single frac sand project ever proposed in southeastern Minnesota in terms of the number of communities it would affect. The Star Tribune also reported that the investors now backing Minnesota Sands refuse to disclose their identities.
Minnesota Sands has a history of trying to hide the full extent of its plans, evade state environmental review law, and get the project approved piecemeal. For instance, it tried to get permits in 2012 for the Yoder and Dabelstein mines in Winona County while pretending they weren’t connected to each other or to a bigger proposal.
But the Land Stewardship Project’s organizing in 2012 and 2013 made sure state law would be enforced and the entire project would have to go through an in-depth environmental review in the form of an EIS. This study must be paid for by the company (not the public), and no government units can consider issuing permits for the project until after the EIS is completed, which typically takes a year or more.
In 2013, the Minnesota Sands proposal was known to include at least 11 mines in Fillmore, Houston and Winona counties. (The same proposers were also behind what would have been North America’s largest frac sand plant, which was to be located in St. Charles, Minn.; that proposal was defeated in March 2013 by organized citizens.)
In July 2013, 100 southeastern Minnesota residents gathered at an LSP meeting in Rushford, Minn., to voice their concerns about the project and lay out what issues the EIS should study. Their comments about the proposal’s impacts on air, water, land, transportation, economics and quality of life, as well as the need for full disclosure from Minnesota Sands, were compiled into The People’s EIS Scoping Report. Citizens called for the review to be comprehensive, thorough and free from industry bias.
Organized people have the power to stop Minnesota Sands from decimating rural communities across southeastern Minnesota like the frac sand industry has done in Wisconsin. Public input throughout the EIS process will be critical, beginning in the “scoping process,” the first step in which the Environmental Quality Board will decide what issues and impacts will be studied.
Southeastern Minnesota residents, as the people facing those impacts on their lives, homes and communities, must keep making their voices heard.
Johanna Rupprecht is an LSP organizer based in southeastern Minnesota. She can be reached at 507-523-3366 or firstname.lastname@example.org. More information on LSP’s work related to the frac sand mining issue is available here.