Despite Previous Rulings, MN Sands Attempts to Yet Again Circumvent Environmental Law
LEWISTON, Minn. — The Land Stewardship Project (LSP) today called on the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (EQB) to continue to enforce its requirement of a comprehensive environmental review of a proposed frac sand mining project in southeastern Minnesota. Earlier this week, EQB considered Minnesota Sands’ claim that it should not be required to do such a study, called an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), despite no evidence that its current plans are separate from the project on which an EIS was first ordered in 2013. Minnesota Sands is attempting to move forward with mining at its proposed Dablestein Mine site in Fillmore County without undergoing the EIS. On Sept. 9, the EQB, after hearing an outpouring of concerns from residents in southeastern Minnesota, called for further investigation of the proposal and demanded more information before proceeding.
“Given this company’s history, it would frankly be naïve to accept at face value the claim that Minnesota Sands has suddenly changed it project enough to avoid an EIS,” said LSP organizer Johanna Rupprecht.
In 2012, Minnesota Sands proposed constructing facilities in the region to extract frac sand, a process that consists of removing and exposing large portions of the landscape. Residents of rural southeastern Minnesota have expressed serious concerns about the proposal’s potential impact on the land, water, and soil, as well as human health and local economies.
In 2013 and again in 2017, the EQB ordered Minnesota Sands to undertake an EIS before any aspect of the project could move forward. Minnesota Sands has consistently fought placing restrictions on frac sand mining in the region, including suing Winona County in 2017 over its frac sand ban and attempting to present the company’s proposal for numerous facilities as piecemeal projects that are not connected to each other.
Court filings from that lawsuit, which the company continued to pursue until the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the ban in March 2020, make it clear Minnesota Sands still plans on pursuing frac sand mining at numerous sites in southeastern Minnesota, a factor which triggered the EQB’s requirement that an EIS be completed. However, on Sept. 9 EQB staff appeared to support the company’s claim that an EIS was no longer required. According to the Minnesota Attorney General’s office, the EIS requirement for Minnesota Sands’ proposal is still in place.
“Minnesota Sands is returning to the same strategy of pursuing mining in a piecemeal manner, claiming only one site should be considered at a time, therefore avoiding having the full impacts of the larger proposal scrutinized,” said Rupprecht. “The company is looking to move forward with one mine as a strategy to avoid the entire EIS requirement and clear the path to open numerous mines covering hundreds or thousands of acres and exploit the bluffs and farmland of southeastern Minnesota. That’s a clear violation of the laws that protect Minnesota’s environment.”
In a letter to the EQB, LSP executive director Jess Anna Glover said in order to justify not doing an EIS, Minnesota Sands would need to take several significant steps to prove it has dropped its large-scale proposal. These steps include providing proof of the cancellation of all its other leases or purchase agreements other than the Dablestein Mine. No such evidence has been provided by the company.
“We appreciate the EQB’s decision to require further information from Minnesota Sands before proceeding with this matter,” said Glover. “Now it’s the Board’s responsibility, as public servants charged with the protection of Minnesota’s environment, to prevent this corporation from succeeding in this latest attempt to avoid obeying basic environmental law.”