While the heyday of Minnesota's Iron Range is over, another mining boom may be around the corner. For environmentalists, that is not such good news. The sand mines in the state, notably the mines in Houston County, are hoping to supply the gas and oil industry with a key ingredient of the solution used in fracturing.
Houston County enters the picture because of a fracas over a permit renewal for the Erickson mine. As we explained in our last post, the mine had been a participant in a larger operation, Minnesota Sands. If things had worked out as planned, Erickson would have been approved to mine more than 100,000 cubic yards of sand every year. That's ten times what Erickson has produced every year for more than 20 years.
Minnesota Sands needed to provide an environmental impact statement if it wanted to be a large-scale mining operation, but the EIS has yet to materialize. Erickson says he has left the fold and will no not pursue the large-scale production plan. It is simply back to business for the mine.
There's a hitch, though. While Erickson was still involved with Minnesota Sands, the permit for the smaller operation came up for renewal. When the request to renew crossed the Houston County Board's desk, the county delayed approval until the permit expired.
There is a lesson about regulatory compliance in this. The county had 120 days to consider the request for renewal that Erickson filed in November. The clock apparently stopped running on January 1, when the license expired, though. Erickson had to file again. Had the 120 days run out while the permit was still in effect, the permit would have automatically renewed. And, had the permit automatically renewed, the county may have skirted all the objections to the production of frac sand.
We'll finish this up in our next post.
Source: Winona Post, "Houston sand mine appeal denied," Chris Rogers, June 25, 2014