Hauling frac sand

SIREN—Listening to constituents, concerned businesses and upset residents, the Burnett County Land Use and Information committee voted last week to deny two amendments to the conditional use permit held by Tiller Corp., the company which runs the fracture sand mine west of Grantsburg.

One amendment was to extend the mining hours which would allow the mine to open at 6 a.m. rather than 7 a.m. The other amendment was to allow the use of explosives for mining operations.

In the words of Maury Miller, chair of the committee, numerous opponents argued persuasively against the amendments during the public hearing portion of the meeting.

"We own a business within a mile and a half of the mine and we serve paddlers on the river," Jerry Dorff said. "We can hear them the way it is."

"We live and work in a national park, and for that privilege, we must be mindful of how we use the land surrounding the park," Deb Ryun, executive director of the St. Croix River Association. "Those others that make a living from the river— outfitters, river guides, restaurants, and other tourist industries, all can and will be affected."  

Dorff estimates his business alone puts 3,000 paddlers on the section of river next to the mine.

"We have outfitted paddlers who have camped at Sandrock Cliffs who have complained about the noise," Dorff pointed out. "Our concern is the noise from the mine and what the mine is doing to the value of the river."

Ryun puts the number of users of the river a bit higher than Dorff.

"Blasting right next to a river highly prized and used by tens of thousands of people annually, visitors and residents alike, is very likely to have negative effects," she pointed out. "People don't return to a place they don't enjoy."

Speaking of the value of the river, the National Park Service also weighed in on the requests.

In a letter to the committee, NPS superintendent Chris Stein expressed concern about the noise and water quality impacts the mine would have when the original conditional use permit was sought in April 2011.

"A year and a half later, those concerns have proven valid," he wrote. "We have learned the frac sand mine is audible from over a mile away along the riverway and in April this year, fine sediments seeped out of a poorly constructed washing pond and into the St. Croix River."

Stein said quiet early mornings are important for hunting and breeding activities of various wildlife near the mine plus the campground Dorff already mentioned.

"We are opposed to granting the request to start mining operations at 6 a.m. due to the impact on campers and wildlife at the riverway," he wrote.

His sentiments were echoed by Ryun.

"I can't imagine what it might do to the wildlife that live nearby," she said. "Extending the hours of operation, which are already beyond normal business hours is obscene — imagine taking an early morning walk on one of the nearby trails, or waking to up in one of the nearby campgrounds to the sound of trucks back-up beepers, processing of sand and gravel, and the rumble of huge trucks down the highway at 6 a.m."

Once the public hearing portion of the meting was closed, Miller asked Tiller Corp. representative Mike Caron if not being able to use explosives would place an undue hardship on the mining operation.

"He said they could still get to the sand, it would just be more expensive," Miller said. "He said it wouldn't be a burden on them."

By two unanimous votes, the committee rejected both the use of explosives and of opening mining operations an hour earlier.

In an update to the committee, Caron said he thought the majority of the mining operations could last five to six years, but admitted there could be up to 10 years worth of mining opportunity.

While residents along Highway 70 in Minnesota might disagree, Miller said the mine hasn't started hauling frac sand yet.

The truck-after-truck hauling residents were witness to last fall was the top soil and gravel workers had to clear to get to the frac sand.

"From what I understand they are stockpiling the sand waiting for a rail access site to be finished in Sunrise, Minn.," he said. "Once that plant is open, they'll be going pretty much full time."

For motorists along Minn. 70, that's kind of a harrowing thought.

"They are estimating 12 to 15 trucks per hour  — and that's just sand going west," Miller reported. "There could also be gravel trucks hauling from there as well."

That idea didn't sit well with Miller.

"That ongoing truck traffic on Highway 70 could have a negative economic impact on Grantsburg and Siren," he reasoned. "Traffic may avoid that road and use Highway 8 or Highway 77 instead."

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