Thursday, December 29, 2011

Sand Mines Neighbors Complain About Noise, Dirt and Inescapable Dust

Everyone who lives near a sand mine in La Salle County, where several sand mines are located, including one of U.S. Silica's, complains about noises from machinery, blasting, and worst of all, silica dust, which invades homes, cars and nearby properties, not to mention your lungs.

That's according to Kevin Caulfield a reporter for the News Tribune, which covers north central Illinois. Caulfield, who is pro-sand mine, has been covering the sand mines in La Salle County for eight years. "I've even seen it with my own eyes," says Caulfield, who supports sand mines. "These are dirty operations that make life difficult for those living nearby."

Sand mines don't try to be dirty. They work hard to maintain clean operations, says Caulfield. But the nature of sand makes that nearly impossible.

"I've found in talking to mining operators that it is their intention to do everything possible to be good neighbors, and they certainly try," says Caulfield. "But frankly, we're talking about a mine. No one wants to live next to them and no one will buy residential property next to one."

A thousand people in La Salle County signed a petition opposing a new sand mine proposed for next to Starved Rock State Park.

"The reason there are so many protesters is because everyone knows someone who has lived next to a mine," says Caulfield.

Caulfield supports sand mines, as long as they're in rural areas. To have one next to a densely populated area, he says, "sounds insane."

Will Sparta's Conditional Use Permit Protect You? Maybe Not!

Will the current conditional use permit for Sparta's sand mine protect you? One local resident is dubious. Here's what she had to say about it.

First, here's a link to US Silica's Conditional Use Permit for the Sparta plant, located here:

Now, read Donna Evans' analysis of the permit and how what it describes would translate into Sparta's everyday life with a sand mine.

See page 14 about station 1:
"From station 1, the sand will delivered to wet attrition scrubbers, which clean the grains before they
are hydraulically classified (station 2) into two streams – one coarse and one fine. The fine stream of
sand will be pumped to a location where it can be either further processed at a later date, or returned
to the mined out section of the mine pond for deposition."

"Since mining and operation of the wet plant are seasonal, coarse sand surge piles will be established
each year in order to allow the continuous operation of the dry plant. The surge piles will be
depleted by early spring each year."

"The coarse sand stream will be placed in surge in front of one or more natural gas fired fluid bed
dryers, which will remove all residual moisture from the grains."

It is my understanding that some of the large stationary piles of sand that I have seen off Hwy N in Oakdale are referred to as "the fines", which, according to this CUP would make sense. The "fines" are not the ideal grains used for the final product, they are are smaller in size than the coarser grains, and can sit stationary in large piles for an extended period of time. So, my first question would be, do these "fines" emit harmful levels of fugitive silica dust? I would also question whether the larger coarse surge piles emit fugitive silica dust as well.

Finally, read page 18 of US Silica's Conditional Use Permit where it states:

"ii. Fugitive Dust Emission Controls
Emissions associated with sand mining, material handling, outdoor storage, and vehicle emissions are
referred to as “fugitive” emissions. Fugitive emissions will be controlled with best management
practices that include paving drive areas, watering dirt roads and stockpiles, application of nonhazardous
dust suppressants, limiting the amount of “open area”, restoring vegetative cover,
installing and operating spray bars on dry processes and conveyor drop points, installing wind
screens as appropriate, and general good housekeeping at the facility. Since dredge or wet mining
techniques will be used, little if any dust or fugitive emissions will be generated from actual mining.
The fines stockpiles and surge pile will likely be the biggest potential sources of fugitive emissions.
Controls will include regular visual emission observations, wetting the piles when visual emissions
are observed, and utilization of wind screening as necessary."

So, not only will US Silica be using groundwater to wet down dust piles, but local residents are relying on U.S. Silica's "visual observations" to determine if wetting is necessary? Didn't US Silica's MSDS state, "Do not rely on your sight to determine if dust is in the air"?

There is obviously conflicting information between what is suggested to be acceptable dust control in the Conditional Use Permit, and what US Silica's own MSDS states about protective measures in handling silica dust. The Sparta plant will be operating in very close proximity to residents, and this concern should not be taken lightly.

On a windy day like today, December 26, where gusts are up to 27 mph and there is hardly any snow, it is only logical to think that some level of fugitive dust is going to be a problem to nearby residents with a 100-200 acre open pit sand mine and very large piles of fine and coarse sand exposed to the elements (reference the youtube clip above). Would anyone would actually "wet" the piles down in the winter if there is no snow and when watering is impractical in low temperatures? At what point does U.S. Silica's visual observation warrant dust control implementation; is there a certain wind speed that dictates this? Do people have to complain first? Should sand processing plants be prohibited from operating withing a certain distance of schools and housing to protect people from blowing silica dust? These are just a few questions that should be addressed and clarified in writing prior to C.U.P. approval.

Due to these concerns, I believe the methods for controlling fugitive dust emission on US Silica's Conditional Use Permit are potentially inadequate for the public's best interest, and the C.U.P. was issued without allowing the Sparta residents and elected officials enough time to discuss and research this matter.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Living With Sand Mines: US Silica's Illinois Neighbors

Sparta city council members have conscientiously visited other US Silica operations and come back with glowing reports about its mines. US Silica's admirable outreach in Monroe County makes it clear that it is a good corporate citizen.

That said, in La Salle County, some citizens are opposing a new sand mine because of their experience with US Silica. A company called Mississippi Sand wants to build a sand mine near a state park called Starved Rock. It promises to provide water for local farmers and their cattle if its operations cause wells to dry up. But opponents to the new sand mine are wary of those make-good promises because of their experience with US Silica. Here's what the local paper, The News Tribune, wrote about what La Salle County board member Arratta Znaniecki (R-Ottawa), who owns property adjacent to the site, and Peg Kramer-Graves, an organizer of the citizens group opposing the new sand mine, had to say:

Znaniecki and all of the other property owners adjacent to the proposed site met with Mississippi Sand officials. At that meeting the company offered them well agreements and property purchase agreements.

Local wells in the area are shallow. One the Znanieckis bore recently reaches just 37 feet. Anything lower and the water would be mixed with sulfur and lower than that are salt deposits.

“They promised to provide water for us and our cattle until any problems were fixed by them if their operations dried up the wells,” she said.

Officials also offered local residents pre-inspections on their homes. This would allow for a record to be created on nearby home conditions so that if blasting created major structural problems they would know what needed to be fixed.

“It all sounded like a good sell,” Znaniecki said. “They sounded like really good neighbors.”

But after that meeting Citizens Against the Starved Rock Sand Mine held a meeting where participants such as Kramer-Graves explained how U.S. Silica had made similar promises but only kept them half-heartedly.

“I think because of that a lot of people are feeling that if U.S. Silica can’t keep its promises then how will this company,” Znaniecki said.

For the complete News Tribune story, click here.

Could Charging U.S. Silica a Per Ton Fee Cut Your Taxes?

The city of Sparta could charge U.S. Silica a per ton fee and collect more than a million dollars a year by doing so and still let U.S. Silica earn huge profits.

Tunnel City, in the town of Greenfield, will get $250,000 a year from the sand mine operating there. If a sparsely populated township where sand mine land sold for roughly half of what the Sparta land is selling for can make that kind of deal, surely Sparta can do the same--or much better.

US Silica take in between $72 million and $108 million annually on the sand it produces in its mine in Sparta. It plans to produce 1.8 million tons a year and says that it will get between $40 to $60 per ton. Some sources say that it costs about $10 a ton to produce and ship sand by rail, although this does vary by sand mine.

Even if production costs are triple that, U.S. Silica is looking at millions and perhaps billions of dollars of profits over the next 30 years. These profits will come at a cost to Sparta in the form of reduced property values, invasive dust, the possibility of silicosis and other problems.

On the property value front, three of the subdivisions adjacent to the sand mine had an assessed value of just over $17 million in January 2011. Since mines reduce property values by an average 15 to 30 percent, those properties will devalue by between a little over $2.5 million and $5 million. And that’s for just three subdivisions.

That is one reason most sand mines are in rural areas.That is one reason most sand mines are in rural areas--just look at La Salle County, where US Silica has another mine. A reporter for the paper there says that despite mining companies' best efforts, there is lots of dust. It invades homes and cars and that’s why a thousand people in La Salle County signed a petition opposing a new mine there.

At the very least, pervasive dust can make a sand mine a dirty nuisance. Could it mean that if you live near the sand mine you can’t have a cookout in your back yard or open your windows?

At the worst, it could be a health risk in the form of silicosis, which is deadly. Either way, the city of Sparta bears the brunt of that cost, not U.S. Silica, which will be making millions and possibly billions of dollars in profits, while Sparta residents loses millions in property that is devalued or impossible to sell.

If Sparta must have a sand mine, the city should at least charge a per ton fee as the town of Greenfield did. Greenfield, an unzoned township, had very little negotiating leverage--a small stretch of town road running through the sand mine’s property. Yet it was able to use that town road--which it handed over to the sand mine--to negotiate a 15 cents per ton fee. Once the mine is running, Greenfield will get $250,000 per year. Sparta has the power of a conditional use permit. The sand mine cannot operate without that CUP. That means the city of Sparta could negotiate for even more money. Consider this: a 50 cent per ton fee could mean $900,000 for Sparta each year the sand mine operates. Seventy-five cents would mean $1.35 million. What the heck, think big! Go for $1 per ton!

Afraid of scaring the sand mine away? Don't be. The hyrdo-fracking industry's demand for sand--for the most part found mainly here in Wisconsin--is voracious. Competition for the sand and the profits it brings is fierce. If U.S. Silica balks, it has many competitors who will leap in.

Think of what this could mean for the city of Sparta, for its much-desired swimming pool. Then, think of what it could mean for the taxes you pay.

There may well be unanticipated problems with the sand mine, both during its operations and after. Who is going to foot that bill? The taxpayers or U.S. Silica?

The Sparta City Council is considering an appeal on the sand mine Tueday night, Jan. 3. Call your aldermen to tell them what you think.

Mayor John Sund, Jr. - 269-6115; Jim Church, 269-7632; Ronald Button, 269-4307,; Carlos Holcomb, 615-330-7288,; Norman Stanek, 269-8527; Connie Anderson, 269-2801; Edward Lukasek, 269-2987; Dan Hellman, 269-8008; and Kevin Riley, 269-5636;

Friday, December 23, 2011

How much will your property devalue?

How much could the U.S. Silica sand mine cost the city of Sparta in lost property value? Millions and millions. Is it really worth it?

Sand mines are so new that there is no research on the impact that sand mines have on property values. At the moment, the only serious research that has been done is on gravel pits and quarries. Below are the results of that research that many consider applicable to sand mines.

There is anecdotal evidence that sand mines do hurt property values. Click here to see a video of a Tunnel City land owner in the town of Greenfield telling the town board that his property is now worth half what it was before the sand mine was announced. And one Tomah realtor says that while sand mines typically buy neighboring property to maintain good relations with the community, those on the fringe--not close enough for the sand mine to buy their property but close enough to see the mine--will see their property values fall. Meanwhile, see below for research about gravel pits and sand quarries.

Click here for one study showing that putting in a gravel pit or rock quarry can devalue homes by up to 30 percent, depending on how close they are to such a mine. The assessed value in January 2011 of just three of the subdivisions at the sand mine's doorstep was more than $17 million last year. Now, take 15 to 30 percent off that. Thirty percent will cost the city $5.1 million in lost property value. Fifteen 55percent would cost the city 2.55 million. Those are conservative numbers. One landowner near the Tunnel City mine saw the value of his property plummet by 50 percent in the weeks after the news of the mine broke. And that is if you can sell your house. One national survey of potential homebuyers found the environmental concerns are one of the most important factors going into that buying decision.

The Sparta sand mine will be right next to one of the most densely populated--if not the most densely populated--parts of Monroe County. The southwest corner of Sparta--where the sand mine will be--is where most of Sparta’s growth has been concentrated for the last decade. If you live in the Riverwood Estates, River Trail, Aspen Fields, Pfaff or Sparta Meadows subdivisions, you are facing a property value loss of 15 to 30 percent. And that is being conservative.

Want to check the math? Click here for Aspen Fields, here for River Trail and here for Riverwood Estates.

See below for a link to one study.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Monroe County Democrat Coverage of Sand Mine issues

Local concern about sand mines grew in the weeks before Christmas. The city of Sparta and Monroe County each had meetings. The county zoning committee heard a proposal for a sand mining moratorium in the county, while the Sparta planning commission approved a conditional use permit for a sand mine in a recently annexed neighborhood in the city of Sparta. The Monroe County Democrat covered these meetings in detail.

Click here for the first set of stories and here for the second. If you have trouble with these links, click on "read more" below and click on the links in that section.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Frac Sand Mining Supplies China With Energy!

A major rationale for frac sand mining, an essential ingredient for hydrofracking, a way to extract natural gas and oil from shale, is that it will provide us with energy independence from foreign energy suppliers. But a close look at the hydrofracking industry shows that a major market for this new energy supply is not us, but China!

The Wall Street Journal, Fox News and other news outlets have exposed the fact that China and other foreign countries are a major market for hydrofracked energy. Some political leaders admit it. Is Monroe County sure that it wants to risk its water, possibly subject its children to the deadly effects of silicosis and destroy its countryside to supply China with energy?

A second rationale: jobs. But a UW Extension economist has found that many sand mine jobs are filled by outsiders, not locals, and the multiplier effect of other jobs being created by a mine is relatively small, just 1.3.

(Above, Monroe County's Valley Junction sand mine)

The WALL STREET JOURNAL reported in April that one hydrofracking mining company sold a stake of one of its shale formations to a Chinese company for $570 million. Here's the link to that story:

FOX NEWS reported that Alaska's Gov. Sean Parnell said that Japan and other Asian countries may be a "better market for Alaska gas" and that he has suggested to TransCanada Corp. (TRP) and the state's large oil producers that they focus on building a natural gas export terminal, rather than a long-distance pipeline to the contiguous U.S.

Parnell said the current boom in natural gas production from shale-rock formations in the U.S. and Japan's shift away from nuclear power, toward gas-fired electricity generation, following the March earthquake and tsunami that triggered a nuclear crisis there, as major factors that have shifted the natural gas market from the U.S. overseas.

A PITTSBURGH TV STATION (hydrofracking is polluting water and drying up streams in some parts of Pennsylvania) published the following:

"Drilling companies rapidly expanding their U.S. operations in places such as Pennsylvania's vast Marcellus shale formation repeatedly tout they are providing American jobs and securing the nation's energy future.

Yet, a Tribune-Review examination found foreign companies are buying significant shares of these drilling projects and making plans for facilities to liquify and ship more of that natural gas overseas.

A leading player in the natural gas grab is China, whose thirst for energy to fuel its industrial explosion is growing rapidly. Others include the governments of South Korea and India, and companies in Great Britain, the Netherlands, Norway, Japan and Australia.”

And, on the local front, THE WINONA POST reported Dr. Steve Deller, University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension Economist, spoke at a meeting in Alma, Wis., in October, and focused on the economic impact of frac sand mining.

“Deller said he had looked into the “multiplier” effect of proposed new mining jobs in the area (Buffalo County, WI) — a calculation that shows how many other jobs will be generated by a new business, through money spent by new paychecks added with a mine. He said the multiplier effect is relatively small — at about 1.3.”

“The second question to look at, said Deller, is who will fill the new jobs. Often times, new jobs are filled by people from out of the area, and when the company itself is also from far off, most of the money ends up elsewhere.”
“Deller said that numerous studies of mining communities show that they are often unstable, and that the economics of those areas are closely tied to the price of the commodity sought.”

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Impact on Water Table is Key Issue for U.S. Silica

The make-or-break issue for the sand mine U.S. Silica is proposing to build in what is now the city of Sparta will be the mine's impact on the aquifer.
"The impact on the aquifer is the most critical thing," Jahn said. U.S. Silica is doing its own evaluation. "If it those answers come back all negative and we can't address the issues, that could be the fatal flaw in the process," said Jeff Jahn, mine planning and development manager and U.S. Silica's on-the-ground man for U.S. Silica.

For those of us who have dealt with sand mines operating in the eastern half of Monroe County, U.S. Silica is a whole new ball game. In Tunnel City, Unimin, for example, quietly bought up 500 acres of land under the name of a different company. Only then did it introduce itself to its neighbors, who woke up to find themselves surrounded by a giant sand mine.
U.S. Silica, on the other hand, has an option to buy, has launched an impressive outreach campaign and even brought in its CEO to meet with locals. It is planning an open house tomorrow.
The Sparta mine is a different kind of mine than those operating in the eastern half of the county. It is dredge mining, which is possible when the sand deposit and water table are high, as is the case in the Sparta site.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Dan Frolo's Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor and fellow Sparta area citizens…with specific questions addressed to US Silica’s Mr. Brian Slobodow and the City of Sparta Management team:
Great news!  The city of Sparta grew by 520 acres this week!  This happened when the two property owners of that land asked that it become part of the city. The Sparta City council obliged them after hearing a few comments from some city and township residents.
The mayor and some council members said (disclaimer: my quotes are all paraphrased), “Anytime the city has the opportunity to grow we’re going to jump on it.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

U.S. Silica Delays Request for Conditional User Permit Until October

U.S. Silica to Delay Request for Conditional Use Permit Until December

Tuesday, Oct. 25 -- U.S. Silica, which has an option to purchase 520 acres of land in a newly annexed part of the city of Sparta, will present its request for a conditional use permit at the December city planning commission and city council meetings, which are currently scheduled to be Dec. 19 and 20. Initially the company was going present its plans at the November meetings.

Jeff Jahn, mine planning and development manager and U.S. Silica's on-the-ground man on the project (although U.S. Silica's CEO, Brian Slobodow, also has been in Sparta to reach out the community) said that the company extended what had been a 90-day option to buy with the property's sellers to a 120-day option to buy. The company worked out an extension with the owners. The extension means that U.S. Silica has time to present the city with a plan that is as complete as possible. Meeting the deadline of Nov. 14 an 15 for the meetings would have caused U.S. Silica "significant problems," Jahn said.

Presenting the plan and applying for the conditional use permit--which U.S. Silica hopes to have approved at the December meeting-- also gives U.S. Silica that chance to continue to seek input from the community itself. Jahn stressed the importance of getting feedback and local input.

"We didn't want people to think we were trying to rush something through," he said.

Click here to see a PDF of U.S. Silica's draft of what it is tentatively considering doing on the Sparta site.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sand Mine Dust

Monday, Oct. 24 --Want to see what a sand mine looks like and how sand can blow? Click on the "read more" link below to see the video. When it comes to sand mining, it's the wild West all over again, as scores of companies with varying amounts of experience and standards descend upon Wisconsin in a new gold rush.

Jeff Jahn, a representative of U.S. Silica, which is examining the possibility of putting a sand mine in what is now part of the city of Sparta, said such a scenario would be totally unacceptable to U.S. Silica. Jahn spent 45 minutes talking to, more to come about that conversation.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

City Council Annexes Potential Sand Mine Site

ArticleSandMineSparta102011Wednesday, Oct. 19 -- Last night members of the Sparta City Council voted 6 to 1 to annex a site slated to be a sand mine. The next step: getting a conditional use permit for the site. The reason behind the proposed annexation: if the site is in the city of Sparta, developers need to work with just one government entity, the city of Sparta. Otherwise it means dealing with the city, the town of Sparta and Monroe County.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sparta City Council to Vote on Annexing Site for Proposed Sand Mine

Tuesday, Oct. 18 -- The possibility of increased tax revenue powered unanimous approval of annexing the Sharon Wagman/Duane Niedfeldt property in the Town of Sparta at last night’s meeting of the City Planning Commission, despite objections voiced by a number of Township residents present.
Mayor John Sund emphasized that annexation was the issue and was unrelated to  the intent of U. S. Silica to operate a sand mine on the property. 

The matter will come before the Common Council tonight.  A super majority, or a 2/3 vote by six of the eight Council members, is required for approval.  
Council members Kevin Riley, Norm Stanek, Ronald Button and Connie Anderson have already indicated they support annexation.

Sparta’s Common Council meets at 7 p.m. tonight.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Proposed Sparta Sand Mine

Sand Mines in Oakdale, Valley Junction and Tunnel City--Is Sparta Next?

City Council to Consider Annexing Site to Speed Development

Friday, Oct. 14 -- Twenty-five Town of Sparta residents, four City of Sparta residents and one realtor attended an informational meeting conducted by Jeff Jahn, U. S.  Silica, Mine Planning & Development Manager, at the Wagman-Smith farm house on land proposed for a sand mine operation.

Jahn said land owners Sharon J. Wagman and neighbor Duane G. Niedfeldt contacted U. S. Silica after having received inquiries from other sand miners.   U. S. Silica’s option to purchase the land expires at the end of December.

Jahn said a part of the planning process is to determine not only the quality and quantity of sand and its proximity to rail but to seek input from the community--to listen to concerns, explain what U. S. Silica will do and get to know the community so that there will be the least negative impact.

Township residents said many were unaware of the annexation move, initiated October 12, until they read the paper the next day.  They were critical of the speed with which it will be presented to the Sparta Planning Commission on October 17 and to the City Council for approval on October 18.

Jahn said annexation was requested “as a matter of convenience” for the sellers

Jahn said annexation was requested “as a matter of convenience” for the sellers who want to complete the sale by the end of December.   Getting a conditional use permit and seeking approval of a reclamation agreement would require more time because of having to work with  three government agencies--Monroe County, the Township and the City’s extraterritorial agreement.  

Jahn said, “In hindsight, maybe that was unfortunate.   If all of you think it should not happen we will not go forward.”   

Jahn said, “ We would like to have had six months.  We have three months.  The sellers determined the terms of sale.  We are trying to accommodate the sellers.   If not,” he suggested “they will find another buyer.”

Jahn said the processing plant would be located adjacent to Sparta’s Industrial Park, near Century Foods, Matthew’s, Multistack and other industries, but will “be protected by natural buffers.”  It will include a stock pile of sand, unprotected and open to wind.

 Jahn said that because the planning process is incomplete there were a number of questions he could not answer.   


Control of water washing from the hole during periods of deep rain--will water overflow  and spread to the Little LaCrosse and the LaCrosse rivers?  
What will happen to the wetlands?  Its wildlife--birds, deer?
The map you obtained this morning does not adequately identify wetlands and flood plain.
Will Wet Mining increase mosquito population?
How will dredging to the water table affect individual wells?
Are copies of Silica’s Environmental Impact statement available?
Will a High Capacity Well be required to run 5,000 gallons of water a minute?   Can you meet the requirements?
Will mine operations be seven days a week, around the clock?
Describe weekly/daily operational hours, “seasonal” summer-winter operations.
How will proposed Transmission Lines affect your operation?
Describe extent of truck traffic generated by truckloads of sand to be trucked in for use in the processing procedure.
Describe the extent of U. S. Silica’s Good Neighbor Policy--making up the difference when neighbors’ property loses value.
How does U. S. Silica plan to compensate Township’s for its loss of tax revenue if land is annexed by Sparta?

Jahn said he learned of the State Bike Trail earlier today and plans to meet with the DNR on Monday, October 17.   At this meeting he was told about the abandoned dump site which may be a source of contamination.
Over the weekend, he will look at sites within a ten mile radius for a location with “poor” sand--”20-40 mesh sand.”   This site has 10 to 20% “20-40. ”    He would like to find a site with 50% “20-40 mesh,” suggesting that the present site has a limited amount of quality sand.