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.”