Editorial: Make time to get sand rules rightThe old industry of sand mining is under new scrutiny as Minnesota and Wisconsin experience a boom.
The old industry of sand mining is under new scrutiny as Minnesota and Wisconsin experience a boom.
Bay City Silica and Maiden Rock’s Wisconsin Industrial Sand have extracted sand for decades here with few concerns; they have been good neighbors. In fact, we suspect residents outside of those communities never gave the industry a thought — until now. That’s because two mines could become 20.
Much of the sand beneath our communities is prized for its hardness, round shape and large size. Mining of silica has created a 21st-century gold rush due to the sky-rocketing value of this sand used in oil and natural gas extraction. In a process known as hydrofracking, crews inject sand deep underground to force open cracks to release trapped valuable oil and gas.
The process brings with it environmental risks, as several letterwriters state in today’s edition. More letters about potential water, air and public health hazards will appear in the weekend edition.
Those dangers include spills. Wisconsin is seeking civil penalties against Minnesota-based mine operators of two operations that suffered failures.
In late April, a mass of sand and water broke through a berm at a 50-acre mine near Grantsburg, flowing into a wetland and eventually the St. Croix River. In May, a 160-acre mine near Blair had a spill after a heavy rain. Water carried sand 2,000 feet downhill onto neighboring property and covered the first floor of a residence and garage.
Nearly 70 mines have opened in Wisconsin in the last two years. The growth has occurred so rapidly that regulators haven’t been able to catch up. In the haste to add jobs and grab the gold, Wisconsin officials also learned that the provisions they do have are woefully inadequate.
Minnesota and Goodhue County have the gift of time, if they’re willing to take it. The county Planning Advisory Commission has heard from the Mining Study Committee and could vote Monday night on a making a recommendation to the County Board: The county could keep its existing ordinance, revise it or extend the mining moratorium for a second year to allow more study.
Given the lawsuits and unanswered questions, an extension is best. Minnesota can learn from Wisconsin’s mistakes and Goodhue County can lead the way by digging deeper into this complex issue and getting the rules right a year from now.