EDITOR'S NOTE: Another article in this issue looks at those at the meeting with larger questions about frac sand mining. A future article will look at the discussion held here on ordinance revisions.

Let the mines come.

Just two audience members spoke in favor of frac sand mining during the Fillmore County Sand Committee meeting held Monday, Aug. 27.

Chad Nolte of Chatfield was one of them. First, he said it was likely only three or four mine sites could be proposed in Fillmore County. Looking at geological maps showed locations restricted by regulations already in place for shoreland, bluffland, 1,000 ft. setbacks by houses and more.

He then talked about a new plan to get sand from the Pilot Mound Township/Fillmore County and Saratoga Township/Winona County adjoining areas to a new transloading railroad facility being considered for construction east of the city of St. Charles, if the city can annex the land.

Nolte explained current plans call for a slurry pipe system to pipe the sand to the proposed rail site.

"There would be no truck traffic. We'd use big off-road trucks on the site, but would not be on the (county) road system at all. It would be hydraulically pumped to the St. Charles site.

"There would be no trucks through Lanesboro. No effect on tourism... It would probably grow because of new people, new economics and new money in the area. It's going to be a boost, pure and simple."

Bill Swanson of Lanesboro commented that was just someone's idea and not a plan.

Duane Bakke, a sand committee member and also a county commissioner, added the bike trail in this area was once just a dream.

Lucky to have it

Charles Ruen of Lanesboro said the area should feel fortunate it has high quality limestone for rock needs and also the high quality sand. But, if (those questioning and against frac sand mines) had been in the area 80 years ago, "I wonder what the area would look like today?" he asked.

"We're lucky. It's hypocritical (to question its use now). We've made use of it all these years."

He pointed out the local faction was taking over the conversation at the meeting and even used scare tactics at times, while discounting someone saying that sand could be piped.

Ruen said, "We have a highly desirable product to use (for fracking). And you're here using scare tactics to scare people that hundreds and hundreds of mines will be in the county.

"It's disconcerting to me."

Frank Wright of Lanesboro thanked the sand committee for "hosting a pretty disparate group of people." He also noted Ruen was opposed to the area's bicycle trail when it was proposed, adding, "I think he's probably changed his opinion."

Wright continued, "You listen and agree or disagree. People are expressing what they believe and are concerned about. Not scaring. This is what we do in a democracy."

When questioned about using flocculants to separate and clean sand as opposed to using water or dry screening, Nolte said the idea for the St. Charles plant is to have sand dry screened at the site to get big chunks out. It would be hydraulically pumped to St. Charles and a sealed wash plant with a clarifier involved with a "completely sealed concrete bunker."

"When clean, it would go into the drying process and be further sized and sorted. Then it would be conveyed in sealed containers into railroad cars."

He added one slurry pipe would take sand to St. Charles, while another would take the sorted, leftover sand back to the mine site for use in reclamation. The pipe would be around 30 inches.

Sand of low quality?

Ron Garrison, a geologist with Milestone Materials who was present with Tara Wetzel, a civil engineer with the same company, said Fillmore County has only low quality frac sand from the St. Peter layer.

"It is coarser, but very thin. That majority unit of Fillmore County is too fine for the market right now... If I was looking for frac sand, I wouldn't look in Fillmore County. I'd be looking in Wisconsin."

Donna Buckbee of Houston County commented, "We in Houston County were told in February they didn't want our sand. Yet tomorrow night (which was Tuesday, Aug. 28) Minnesota Sands will be in Caledonia for a meeting. Huh... 'measly sand.'"

Rita LeDuc of Pilot Mound Township commented to Garrison, "Keep in mind technologies are changing. There is talk about resin coating the sand to use a lesser grade of sand."

Chad Nolte later also commented about Garrison, saying he should talk in the "percentage" of useable frac sand. He said the industry wants 20 to 40 (mesh size). This area has more 30 to 50 and 40 to 70 frac sand. "If the natural gas market comes back strong, there will be a strong demand for 40 to 70 sand. Do you agree, sir?"

Garrison agreed.

Nolte concluded that as far as economic impact, "You can't put a price on what those farmers could gain. Look at the positives here, too."