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Little concern for silica-sand quarry near Highland

PRESTON — A quarry southeast of Lanesboro that has been extracting silica sand since 2008with little notice is asking to expand from 18.6 acres to 50 acres.

Reilly Construction Co., of Ossian, Iowa, which operates the mine on the land of Sandra and John Rein near the unincorporated town of Highland, submitted an environmental assessment worksheet on Jan. 10. The public comment period has ended, and Fillmore County is responding to questions and comments, said Zoning Administrator Chris Graves. About a dozen people or governmental agencies commented on the document.

It's possible the EAW will come before the county board at the end of this month or in early April, he said. If it finds the worksheet meets requirements, the board can approve it and the quarry can apply for a conditional use permit that would allow the expansion.

While similar mines that were proposed for south of St. Charles brought heavy criticism and comment, the Rein mine has been operating without problems, he said. "They have been a really good mine," he said.

When it got its permit in 2010, "there wasn't a soul that cared," he said. And they have been good about reclamation, he said.

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They did quarry the sand for fracking for natural gas (sand, water and chemicals are injecting deep into the ground to force open fractures in rock to release the gas) and sent the sand through Rushford to Winona for processing. Since then, demand for new gas wells has dropped so much that there's little demand for that sand, he said. But it is still mining for cattle bedding sand.

Even when it was sending out fracking sand, the quarry probably loaded 50 trucks daily at most, Graves said. They apparently all went through Rushford.

Rushford City Administrator Steve Sarvi said no one complained about the trucks. Rushford also has a large cooperative elevator. "We just kind of got used to truck traffic coming through," he said.

If the number does rise to 120 daily and with more concern about the health effects of silica sand, more people might begin to worry, he said.

If the new permit is approved, Rein would have to follow rules in the county's new rules for mining, including not being allow to process sand on the site and only using water for dust control. Graves said.

When the EAWs for three quarries in Saratoga Township south of St. Charles were proposed, they got about 100 comments, nearly all against them. The Minnesota Department of Health and Pollution Control Agency asked for a full environmental impact statement, that would take about a year. Those proposing the first two quarries later agreed to do the EIS.

But the two state agencies have not asked for an EIS for Rein.

The comments on the Rein proposal centered around many of the same concerns as those commenting on the Saratoga proposals — traffic, health, water pollution and noise.

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The Rein worksheet also had comments from people who feared damage to two trout streams — Nepstad and Gribben — because their headwaters are around Highland.

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