Court of Appeals rejects challenge to frac sand mine

Photo: Bob Collins/Minnesota Public Radio News/File.

Opponents of frac sand mining in Winona County have lost a legal challenge at the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

The court said the County Board was correct in ruling that the first frac sand mining project ever approved in Winona County did not require an environmental review. The action came after Winona County lifted a moratorium on silica sand mining operations in the area.

The Court of Appeals panel denied a challenge to the decision today, ruling that the county board had properly considered the effects of the mine in Saratoga township.

“The proposed mine site is a 19.1 acre parcel located in the middle of 74.09 acres of agricultural land, which is significantly smaller than other proposed projects,” Judge Francis Connolly wrote in his decision today.

The project is expected to last for approximately two to three years, after which the site will be returned to grassland. The county board properly considered this factor and substantial evidence in the record supports its finding that the potential cumulative effect of this small and limited-duration project is minimal.

Connolly said the county board had no obligation to consider the impact of the mine in relation to other proposed operations in the frac-sand-rich county because the other projects are “purely speculative.” The Nisbit mine is one of about seven frac sand mines proposed in Winona County.

Opponents of mining have cited the problems caused by sand trucks hauling the sand to a facility in Winona that currently processes frac sand from Wisconsin. The Winona mine would add 280 truck trips a day to the traffic.

“We are aware that the issues involved in this case stir the passions of many people,” Judge Connolly wrote, “but our role is limited to faithfully applying the law in reaching our decision, whether or not that decision is popular.”

Update 2:53 p.m. – The statement from the Land Stewardship Project:

Today, the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the Winona County Board’s 2013 decisions to permit the Nisbit frac sand mine in Saratoga Township without ordering comprehensive environmental review in the form of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Twelve Winona County residents had appealed the Board’s decisions, in light of the mine’s potential to negatively effect health, safety, and quality of life, and particularly its potential to contribute to cumulative impacts as one of the many frac sand mines proposed in the immediate area. The legal bar for citizens to overturn such county actions is very high, and in this case a damaging decision made by the Winona County Board majority has been allowed to stand.

Appellant and Saratoga Township resident Vince Ready said, “We felt we had no recourse but to ask the Court of Appeals to remedy the actions of what we consider to be an inattentive and irresponsible County Board majority. The citizens attending the meetings of the County Board that led up to their initial decision were overwhelmingly opposed to mining, especially without the benefit of an EIS first.”

The Land Stewardship Project will continue to organize the majority of residents of Winona County and southeast Minnesota who oppose opening up the region to the devastation of the frac sand mining industry.