Schmit touts study of mining concerns
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota officials would study the environmental impact of silica sand mining and provide technical assistance to local governments dealing with sand mining issues under a bill to be introduced Monday in the state Senate.
The bill by Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, also would establish the Southern Minnesota Silica Sand Board and allow local governments to collect some taxes to deal with the issue.
Schmit's bill comes after an overflow crowd Tuesday heard the two sides discuss sand mining in front of legislators.
"After many months of grassroots organizing, those concerned about rapid expansion of sand mining operations in the region finally had their day at the Capitol..." Schmit said. "The message was loud and clear: We have an opportunity to avoid the perils of western Wisconsin; let's not repeat their mistakes."
Silica sand, abundant in southeastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin, is used in oil and gas fields, including the booming Oil Patch in western North Dakota.
Wisconsin places few regulations on sand mining and busloads of Minnesotans attended the legislative hearing to urge Minnesota not to allow air and water pollution like in the neighboring state. They also complained about the heavy use of roads and railroads to transport the sand.
Schmit's bill would require a generic environmental impact statement to determine how sand mining could affect those near a mine, as well as economic impacts.
"Importantly, this process will help us identify specific state permitting standards," Schmit said.
The silica sand board Schmit proposes would establish a model ordinance that local governments could use when they are awarding mining permits. The board also would allow government officials to coordinate their work.
State experts would be made available to local governments when considering mining issues.
"State agencies have resources and expertise that local governments lack," Schmit said.
Local governments would gain some taxing power under the bill so they do not lose money in dealing with sand mining, and they would be able to extend temporary bans on mines.
A Senate committee is to consider the bill Tuesday.