Growing gravel and frac sand mine near river alarms Osceola neighbors

The expansion of an existing gravel pit and new sand mining at the site is raising questions and concerns about water, air, and the impacts of frequent blasting.

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The following article has been provided by St. Croix River Communities Against Frac Sand Mining. This issue was discussed by the Osceola Village Board on the evening of Tuesday, June 11. Please see the update.

In January of 2019, the Board of the Town of Farmington approved a Conditional Use Permit for the new owners of the Rybak Mine. The mine is located on the northernmost 80 acres in the Town of Farmington.

The new permit allows mining to 800 feet above sea level or approximately 80 feet below the surface. They are allowed to mine from 6 am to 9 pm Monday thru Friday and 6 am to 3 pm on Saturdays. They are permitted to place temporary concrete and hot mix plants on the site. The only controls on the mine’s activities is a small buffer zone along their property lines (to be set by the board and not less than 6 feet in width), an annual submission of water samples to the Board, and a requirement that new equipment shall be converted to white noise backup alarms.

Map of approximate location (USGS)

Historically, gravel and limestone was mined at this pit. Blasts occurred twice annually, and about 150,000 tons of material was mined and transported. Under new ownership, both limestone and frac sand are being mined. They are mining 2000 tons daily, and expect to ship 700,000 tons of material in 2019.  Approximately 80 trucks a day are currently leaving the site.  Twenty percent of the material shipped is frac sand, which is washed on site, then shipped to North Branch, Minnesota for further processing.  They have blasted 5 times this year, and anticipate blasting on a monthly basis going forward.  There are no restrictions on how often they may blast.  The owners said they expect the lifetime of the existing mine to be 8 to 10 years.

At a meeting held at the Discovery Center, the new owners acknowledged that they are currently in discussions to purchase an additional 200 acres to the South of the existing mine.  They said that they see this as the future of the mine.

Noise and Blasting

The current mine is surrounded on three and a half sides by the Village of Osceola.  The mine is just over a quarter mile from the Osceola Medical Center, the Christian Community Home of Osceola, the Osceola Community Playground, the Osceola Airport, the new Memory Care Center and a number of Village residents along Ridge Road and nearby communities.

Vibrations from blasting can cause cracks and other damage to homes and businesses in the area.  Under prior owners, blasts caused a couple of wells to collapse at homes along Ridge Road.  The owners were never compensated for the cost of new wells.

You can imagine the effect of the blasting on residents of the Christian Community Home for the elderly or the future Eagle Ridge Memory Care Center.  The Osceola Medical Center is currently in the process of assessing the risks associated with these blasts. We believe medical and diagnostic equipment would be affected.  Many medical procedures cannot take place when there is the possibility of a blast occurring.

Noise from the mine is already becoming part of everyday life along the once peaceful and scenic St. Croix River. Property values of nearby residences will be affected.  It could certainly impact the desirability of using the hospital and nearby elderly care facilities.

Water Quality

The mine is located less than half a mile from the St. Croix River.  Much of the neighboring land is located within the St. Croix River District. The area is rife with springs.  It was once the home of the Bethania Springs and the Bethania Bottling Plant, and the mineral water was thought to be the best in the area.

Spring on the St. Croix River bluff near the historic Bethania Springs.

Risk to water quality from frac sand mining remains largely unstudied.  The chemicals (flocculants) used to clean the sand contain trace amounts of acrylamide, which can damage the nervous system and male reproductive organs.  Studies have shown acrylamide exposure causes tumors in rodents.  Acrylamides do appear to quickly biodegrade, but more research is needed to determine if the concentrations in frac sand wash water and discarded fines (accumulations of small waste particles) are high enough to impact groundwater over time.

In addition, sandstone formations are rich in minerals containing metals.  Breaking the rock may allow minerals to dissolve and increase metal concentrations in water.  In 2013, the DNR sampled sand mine ponds and found concentrations of aluminum, lead and manganese many times in excess of agency groundwater standards.  It is unclear whether these concentrations were due to sediment or water, and additional studies were recommended to determine risk to water quality.  It appears these studies have stalled due to lack of funding.

Mining can also disrupt the normal filtering of groundwater since it involves removal of the material that filters water.

Runoff from sand piles and storage ponds can enter local waterways. In 2011, a discharge from Pattison Sand in Clayton County, Iowa impacted endangered mussel habitat along the Mississippi River.  In 2012, near Grantsburg, WI, sediment escaped a berm, flowed into a creek and created a plume in the St Croix River.

Air Quality

Frac sand mining can emit large amounts of dust. The silica dust that is released is harmful to the respiratory system and can potentially cause heart damage.  It is especially difficult for those with asthma or existing respiratory problems. Silica is also a known carcinogen.

Because the dust is “fugitive”, i.e. caused by the wind blowing across storage piles or open trucks, it is unregulated.

Traffic

Truck traffic at the mine has already exponentially increased.  The increase in heavy hauling trucks will result in greater damage to local roads. The material is transported by independent truckers traveling in all directions.

The sand being delivered to North Branch comes downtown and travels over the Osceola and/or Taylors Falls Bridge. When the bridge is closed for repairs or replacement, these trucks will likely travel through downtown Osceola.

Our Community

There is a unique beauty to this community above the bluffs along the St Croix River.  It is the home to a large number of century family farms; there are several organic farms and lands dedicated to prairie restoration. Large tracts of land are in land conservancy or protected through conservation easements for future generations. Much is part of the National Scenic Waterway. Tourists come to visit this area on weekends, and we chose to live, to work or retire here because of its peacefulness and natural beauty.

We understand that all communities have need for gravel and lime, but WHY would we want a frac sand mine here?

Update, June 12:

At the Village of Osceola board meeting last night over a hundred people showed up, overflowing the meeting room at the Discovery Center into the hallways. Nearly all were opposed to the mine.

About a dozen residents were able to voice their concerns about traffic, noise, interference with nearby businesses and activities, and adverse effects on air quality and water resources.

This was followed by the three mine owners addressing the board. They claimed residents misrepresented the mine’s operations and they also attempted to minimize the public’s concerns.

The Village Board treated it as an opportunity to solicit input, listened to both sides, but took no actions on the matter at this meeting.

Thank you to those who came to the meeting to represent the Village of Osceola. For those who were not able to make the meeting or did not know about it, we will have a forum in the near future. If you would like to be put on the email list, send a message through Facebook and we will make sure you are notified.


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2 responses to “Growing gravel and frac sand mine near river alarms Osceola neighbors”

  1. Loris Sofia Gregory Avatar
    Loris Sofia Gregory

    Thank you, Michael, for the excellent informative and thorough article about all to be considered. Best wishes on all next steps for the healthiest highest outcomes for all concerned.

    1. Lisa M Curry Avatar
      Lisa M Curry

      Hello Loris, We have come along way in the past 14 months. We are hopeful that the Village of Osceola will enact Extraterritorial Zoning. The article written by St. Croix River Association explains it best. Good day to you always, Lisa https://www.stcroixriverassociation.org/2020/07/support-of-osceola-extraterritorial-zoning-for-mine/?fbclid=IwAR0mUK_iWwpqx1lHhz3MmAbdmOiksbfSkwxblWy0Fo0Mas3c1oOCxYDKRYY

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Growing gravel and frac sand mine near river alarms Osceola neighbors