River Road panel asks local governments to follow sand mining rules
ST. PAUL — A Minnesota commission designated to oversee the Great River Road is sending a message to local governments asking that they consider the impact of silica sand mining.
The Mississippi River Parkway Commission voted unanimously Thursday to encourage strict adherence to laws and rules that regulate silica sand mining and related activities. It rejected a suggestion by sand mining opponents that was more strongly worded against mining.
The commission decided to provide local governments in southeastern Minnesota, where there is high-quality silica sand, information on the issue at its website.
Rep. Sheldon Johnson, DFL-St. Paul, the commission chairman, said the panel needs to be balanced. While it is given the task of looking after the environment along the Great River Road, he said, it also must consider the region’s economy.
Jody McIlrath of Goodhue County, representing Save the Bluffs, urged the commission to go with stronger language, “adding a few more teeth.” Regardless of how strong the resolution would be, the commission cannot enforce anything, only ask that local governments consider “proper procedures and regulation in siting and operation of silica sand mining and processing facilities.”
Hitting on one of the commission’s major concerns, McIlrath said mines and processing facilities would hurt tourism. She told commissioners that 40-ton sand trucks clog roads around a Wisconsin sand processing facility.
Don Arnosti of the Minnesota Audubon Society chapter told commissioners that he fears for groundwater quality and the amount of water used by sand processing if mining is allowed.
“Southeast Minnesota is home to 40 percent of the endangered and listed (as potentially endangered) species,” Arnosti said.
Mining could significantly harm them, he added.
Many commissioners sounded like they support those who oppose sand mining, but said they need to balance their actions.
Commission Vice Chairwoman Sheronne Mulry of Wabasha, who represents the area from Hastings to Iowa, said her family has a farm in the Wisconsin sand mining area, and she does not like what she sees when she visits. However, she voted for the resolution because “you have to work with both sides.”
“I didn’t hear anything today that said anything we are doing (in the resolution) is bad,” said commission member Cordelia Pierson, who represents the area from Elk River to Hastings.
The resolution says sand mining raises concerns about several issues, including ecological and road damage.
Silica sand is used in some oil production, including western North Dakota.