WINONA — "Jobs, jobs, jobs," said Rich Mikrut, president of Seven Rivers Intermodal Terminals LLC of Winona on Wednesday in opposing a generic environmental impact statement of silica sand mining.
"Jobs, jobs, jobs," agreed Tony Kwilas, director of environmental policy for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, in also opposing it.
The need for more jobs, and economic development, came up time after time during testimony from the business community before the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board. Some people concerned about the rapid growth of the silica sand industry, particularly in southeastern Minnesota, have asked for the impact statement.
The sole exception was the Lanesboro Area Chamber of Commerce, which testified in favor of the study, not to stop mining but to make sure it doesn't overshadow the tourism industry.
According to Minnesota statutes, a generic environmental impact statement may be ordered by the Environmental Quality Board to study types of projects that are not adequately reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
At a previous meeting, those seeking the study spoke, so the board asked business interests to testify on Wednesday.
The sand is forced into gas and oil wells to open fractures in rock and let out the energy. Southeast Minnesota has some of the best sand for that because it has large, round grains that can withstand a lot of pressure.
Those testifying Wednesday touted frac mining as a boom to local economies and an industry that has shown it's good for a community. They said they fear the study would put a damper on the expansion and send more jobs to Wisconsin.
Bob Patton, EQB executive director, said the board has yet to act on it. It has only required two generic environmental impact studies in the past 20 years, one on the timber industry and one on agricultural feedlots. They take 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 years to complete. Requiring one wouldn't stop any frac mines or sand processing plants from starting.
It's up to the Legislature to take any regulatory action, said Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr. He said the study done on the timber industry many years ago is still being used to guide actions; it didn't stop any logging, he said.
Studies are to gather information, he said, "and we need to get better information on this."
But Scott Sustacek, chief executive officer of Jordan Sands, which has been operating many years in the Mankato area, said he fears the big study would stymie development. Townships, cities and counties might halt any development until the study is done, he said.
The environmental impact statement would have an "irreversible negative economic impact," he said.
The state needs that economic impact, said Della Schmidt, president of the Winona Area Chamber of Commerce, which strongly supports developing the industry. She isn't afraid trucking the sand would hurt the town because thousands of trucks come into the city already to serve other industries.
Others also argued that the study isn't needed and wouldn't be effective.
Minnesota already has strong environmental review, said Kirsten Pauly, principal of Sunde Engineering, of Bloomington. "This is not a new industry," she said. Mining "is one of the most regulated industries" in the country, she said, and many state and federal agencies oversee it.
"Minnesota knows mining," Sustacek said. It's had mining in the northeast for more than a century and around Mankato for just as long. But each area is unique, so a generic study couldn't take into account differences in silica or gravel mining around Mankato and in Winona County.
Lanesboro was the one business group supporting the study and for the same reason as those opposing it — jobs.
Study is needed because frac sand mining "has the potential, if done on a large scale, to adversely impact the quality of life in Fillmore County and the city of Lanesboro," said Julie Kiehne, executive director of the chamber of commerce.
Lanesboro relies on its beauty, historic downtown and the Root River Trail, she said. If too many mines are opened, it would hurt the beauty and make the town a less desirable place to be, she said.
She said the patchwork approach of many townships, cities and counties "will not do justice to these issues and concerns."