Kinnickinnic Township Chair Jerry Olson said he was taken aback this week by a murmur about the possible encroachment of frac sand mining. The six-mile-square township north of River Falls is a guardian of one of the most prized trout streams in the Upper Midwest -- the Kinnickinnic River -- and the town board has never been formally approached by any company wanting to mine silica sand for sale to the oil and gas industry.
But at a Town Board meeting Sept. 3, Brian O'Connor of Preferred Sands of Minnesota said a delay by the township in developing a frac sand mining ordinance would prevent his company from starting to mine in the area as early as the spring of 2014, Olson said.
"It was very strange,'' said Olson, who noted that the company had not previously come forward with any plans. "It made me a little more worried about not having an ordinance in place.''
A call left for O'Connor at the Preferred Sands mine and processing site in Woodbury, Minn., was not immediately returned.The Pennsylvania-based company also operates a frac sand mine in Blair, Wisc., that has been cited by the DNR for unsanctioned discharges of sediment into the surrounding watershed.
At the Sept. 3 meeting of the Kinnickinnic board, members approved a six-month extension to a frac sand moratorium that was set to expire soon. Olson said the extension was needed to finish the ordinance. As township chairman, he wants an ordinance that will protect the property rights of people who might want to mine sand without "trampling'' the Kinnickinnic River and the rights of others in the county who cherish the area's rural ambiance.
"We're pretty sensitive about what gets washed into the Kinnickinnic,'' Olson said.
Hi-Crush Partners of Houston, Texas, is getting close to making a public announcement about its latest frac sand mining project in western Wisconsin. The publicly traded company has been negotiating with property owners in Trempealeau County on hilly, agricultural lands between the City of Independence and the county seat of Whitehall.
On Monday of this week, six local property owners and Hi-Crush Whitehall LLC submitted a Petition for Direct Annexation by Unanimous Approval to the City of Whitehall. Tina Kay Sass, the city's administrator, said the company is preparing to present its plans in early September. The Hi-Crush project also would involve adjoining land that would be annexed by the City of Independence, directly west of Whitehall. Most if not all of the combined frac sand site currently lies in Lincoln Township, which would be compensated in some way for losing a chunk of its tax base under a possible intergovernmental agreement.
Hi-Crush was launched in mid-2011 as a frac sand supplier to the oil and gas industry. It has become a major player in Wisconsin, the nation's No. 1 frac sand producing state, by operating mines located in Wyeville (600 acres) and Augusta (1,000 acres.) The size of the Whitehall-Independence site could possibly rival Augusta in size.
The Trempealeau County Board of Supervisors this week adopted a moratorium of up to one year against additional permitting of frac sand facilities, but it's not clear if the temporary ban would slow the Hi-Crush project. For instance, there was testimony at the public hearing for the moratorium that cities within the county could continue to issue new frac sand operating permits. Annexation of frac sand sites by cities has become a hot topic in Trempealeau County and elsewhere in Wisconsin because it undercuts county control of a major new land use and robs townships and counties of important tax base.
Frac sand mining in Minnesota now has its own website.
Six state agencies created a single portal to their frac sand activities and rulemaking around the controversial and fast-growing industry. With so much interest statewide, officials said the site is geared toward easier navigation of the complex and fast-moving regulatory landscape. In particular, the website will help people interested in what the state is doing to develop new rules for managing and permitting silica sand projects.
The website, silicasand.mn.gov, provides links to each of the state agencies involved with making the new rules or managing activities involved with the mining, transportation and processing of silica sand. They include the Environmental Quality Board (EQB), the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Pollution Control Agency (PCA), Department of Health, Department of Transportation, and Department of Agriculture.
“The growth of frac sand mining in Minnesota has presented complex environmental and economic issues,” said Dave Frederickson, chair of the EQB and commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. “Governor Dayton is directing our agencies to work closely together to streamline the details of our efforts on behalf of Minnesotans.”
The agencies named to do rulemaking in the legislation are the EQB, DNR and PCA. The other agencies don’t have specific rule responsibilities but were included in the new website because they are closely tied with some issues in the silica sand industry.
--Josephine Marcotty • 612-673-7394
“Me and my partners split up. They went to Wisconsin,” said Rick Frick, one of two remaining principals in Minnesota Proppant LLC. “Were they fed up? Yes, that had a lot to do with it.”
Click here to see the whole story at startribune.com
Minnesota's growing frac sand industry was dealt a setback Tuesday when the St. Charles City Council voted 5-0 to reject requests to annex nearby township land for a major frac sand processing and rail loading site.
Mayor Bill Spitzer ended more than 18 months of speculation, saying it was important for the long-range future of St. Charles not to alienate officials in the township who flat-out opposed construction of the frac sand facility.
The developer of the plan, Minnesota Proppant LLC, was not at City Hall Tuesday for the crucial vote and officials from the company did not return phone calls.
Spitzer said the issue was tearing the community apart and ruining friendships. While many residents feared what it would do to the quality of life in St. Charles -- a scenic town of 3,700 people between Rochester and Winona -- others saw it as an opportunity for economic development, jobs and growth.
State agencies, industry participants and anti-frac sand activists from all over the state have had their eyes on the St. Charles proposal because it promised to be a catalyst for an array of new frac sand mines throughout southeastern Minnesota. The region has some of the best frac sand in the world, but it needs rail and barge support to move it economically to oil and gas drilling sites around the country.