Sand mine opens near Rushford, causes concern in Houston County
By Clay Schuldt
Special to The Argus
Resident Scott Anderson told the Houston County Board on June 12 that he cannot afford to let Minnesota Sand’s good fortune for its mining operation to be bad luck for the fish hatchery that serves as an asset to his property.
Anderson feels that the stream running though his property needs protection from negative effects if the company intends to extract tons of sand and wash it with up to 42 million gallons of water that could flow into the nearby river.
Anderson’s concerns came after a June 5 commissioner meeting when Zoning and Planning Administrator Bob Scanlan spoke about a permanent sand quarry approved in 1992 near the Fillmore/Houston border on Highway 16.
The original owner of the quarry was granted a permit at the time as Houston County wanted to use the sand for a major roadwork project.
Since the initial permit was granted, little sand has been removed. Current plans call for the removal of all the sand, which is up to 2 million cubic units, according to one report.
“I don’t know where a lot of these numbers are coming from.” Jeff Griffin, a civil engineer working for G-Cubed in Chatfield, said speaking as a representative for the mine.
He said the mine is relatively small at around 19 acres and the number of tons and trucks given by Stanage was much higher than was planned.
Commissioner Justin Zmyewski asked Griffin who was in charge of the mine, but Griffin did not have paperwork detailing the information.
Zmyewski also asked how many tons and yardage were permitted.
Griffin did not have the exact figures but stated that other sites only extracted a million cubic tons in an entire year and that extracting 2 million in six months would be impossible.
Zmyewski suggested that the actual plan was for 2 million cubic tons total over the course of the entire operation, to which Griffin agreed.
In addition Griffin stated that there is no wash plant intended to be on site. It was looked at, but Griffin felt that the mine was not big enough to justify a wash plant. Griffin also stated that regarding silicosis and repertory dust, the Federal Government that regulates mining does actively check for safety.
The parcel retains the original permit, which is currently in effect and would not be subject to the frac sand moratorium put in effect by Houston County earlier this year.
Commissioner Tom Bjerke was uncertain if county could take any legal action to stop the mining, but consulting with attorney Tom Cannon at its next meeting. Cannon is the senior assistant attorney from the civil branch of Olmstead County, which serves as legal adviser on silica sand mining for Houston County.
Zmyewski said that while the company is permitted to extract sand from the site, he felt there may be other issues that go beyond the conditions of the permit.
A resident who lives near the mine, Corey Baker, was concerned the mine could have negative health effects for his family. While he said it would difficult to interrupt the operations plan, he was in favor of delaying the mining operation until the Frac Sand Study Committee had released all its findings.
Resident Kelley Stanage told the board that two county residents were denied access to information regarding the mine on Monday, June 11.
“All information held by the county, other than information stipulated in Minnesota law as private data, is public and must be provided upon request,” Stanage said.
Stanage said if there was no additional information then the file was incomplete and any mining operation could not be undertaken.
Stanage said that this operation was an expansion that would result in the mining of 2 million cubic units of sand and would require 100,000 trucks of sand, 575 a day, traveling through Rushford.
Stanage felt that the Zoning Office was attempting to get around the moratorium, saying “Bob Scanlan’s insistence that they are a validly permitted mine demonstrates the zoning office’s inclination to circumvent the county’s own zoning ordinance.”
The commissioners plan to have Cannon and Scanlan present at next week’s meeting to answer further questions.