MANKATO — A permit to process silica sand just north of Mankato was set aside indefinitely Tuesday as the Lime Township Board voted to wait for an environmental study to be finished.
This second delay, the first being in July, came at the request of Scott Sustacek. He’s the CEO of Jordan Sands, the Coughlan Companies affiliate seeking the permit. Township Chair Karl Friedrichs said the study would give the board more information with which to make a decision.
The vote came after more than two hours of discussion from the 90 or so people who attended the meeting at the Mankato Regional Airport. The top worry of residents was that silica sand particles, invisible to the naked eye, would clog their lungs and cause disease.
Dr. Anne Ptaszynski, an anesthesiologist, read a study she said showed silica sand of a certain size causes illness and death. After that, though, she had more questions than answers.
“How’re we going to monitor it? How far will it spread?” she asked.
Friedrichs responded that the township will impose conditions on the company’s permit requiring them to prevent the dust from going airborne.
For many in the audience, conditions weren’t enough.
“If we all gather together, I really think we can stop this,” said Lynn Austin, a 3rd Avenue resident. ... “We don’t want it in our valley.”
But, later in the meeting, Township Supervisor Dennis Yetter said that might not be an option.
“We can put restrictions on it, but we can’t just say no,” he said.
The request — which is only to process silica sand; the mining itself happens on nearby land within Mankato — covers land in an industrial zone. And the township would be vulnerable to a lawsuit if it appeared to deny a permit without proper cause.
Friedrichs said, “It’s hard for us to say no. ... That’s what we’ve got to struggle with on the board.”
As for the airborne dust, 3rd Avenue resident Beth Proctor said she does not believe the township has the authority to regulate silica sand amounts in the air because Minnesota, like most states, does not have standards in the area.
Proctor said she doesn’t want a lawsuit. Instead, she wants conditions to make the operation as safe as possible.
The Township Board was somewhat unpopular during the meeting, leading Supervisor Dennis Schmitz to attempt to relate to his constituents.
“The bottom line is we’re all Lime Township residents. We have just as much ... ” he said, before being interrupted by someone in the crowd. There were no slurs and few insults during the meeting, but the lively crowd clapped often, especially when someone stood to say they didn’t want the operation in their valley.
Silica sand wasn’t their only concern.
Aura Austin, who lives about 600 yards from the site, said she’s worried about the sight-lines at the intersection of Industrial Road and 3rd Avenue. Trucks from the proposed plant would clog the intersection, she said, and a fatal accident is only a matter of time.
“I want us to think about the big picture,” she said. ... “This is just a small amount of the equation.”
The next step is to wait for a so-called “environmental assessment worksheet” to be finished, by “October at the earliest,” Friedrichs said. After that, the Township Board could accept the worksheet or ask the company to add to it. After it accepts the worksheet, the township would take comments for 30 days and eventually vote on the permit, with its conditions.