St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Writing and Fracking the Weekend Away

Had a very busy weekend!  Friday and Saturday was the Wisconsin Writers Conference at Siren.  Got to listen  to a lot of other writers reading their material Friday night and four excellent speakers Saturday.  I filmed/recorded the whole conference and will see how it turns out as I edit it on the computer.

 Friday Evening Writer's Roundtable 9 pm

Sunday brunch at Mom's and then Sunday afternoon at the Frac Sand mining conference at St. Croix Falls.  Learned a lot, including that on Earth Day, the Grantsburg mine had a breach in the berm and flooded down through the creek across Hwy 70 and dumped silt into the St. Croix River.  Some striking pictures of the creek running brown from the leak.  Wonder why the local newspapers didn't cover it?   Regulatory responsibility is the WI DNR and Burnett County.  Running a mine 100 feet from the Wild and Scenic St Croix River boundary seems like asking for problems.  Interstate Energy Partners LLC claims ownership.  You can read about them at their website Interstate Energy Partners  where they have their slogan "White Sand for Black Gold."  You can see  Grantsburg mine details .

I recorded the audio for the presentation so I can sit back and digest it.  If I heard it right, the desirable sand layer is 80 feet deep in Polk County, so we may not have mines here--as there are many places along the St Croix and Mississippi valley in WI, MN, IA and IL that have surface deposits.

I brought this up at the Sterling Town Annual meeting last month.  Sterling is one of the few townships lying along the St. Croix River that is not zoned, and thus would have nothing to say if some mining operation decided to start in the township.  The town board seemed more interested in the potential to make money off of this than any interest in controlling it--Sterling town owns 4000 acres of land itself.  I wonder if sometimes local govt officials have their heads buried too deeply in the sand ;).  I get nervous when I think of 50 twenty-five ton semi truck loads of sand rolling by my neighborhood -- what I estimate is the goal for the Grantsburg mine -- 300,000 tons of sand mined per year based on their own online statement.  A basic non-metallic mining ordinance can be adopted by a Town (and the WI Supreme Court upheld this in Feb) like the one for Barron County Prairie Lake Township -- at this link
Example Ordinance to Control Frac Sand Mining

I made another visit to the mine after the meeting Sunday evening and saw the new berm meant to prevent another spill.  Wonder if it is working, as traffic on the scanner had the Burnett County DNR plane sent to take photos Saturday of something in that area (they took photos of the first spill that we saw at the meeting today).  Couldn't see any signs of a breach from the gate -- didn't dare go inside, but the new berm is not very impressive--rain seems to have bothered it.

Rain soaked berm at the mine with seeming breaches forming.  In the April 22 spill, some of the silt was delayed by a beaver dam--maybe introducing more beavers to the area would help.

I suppose, if the mining interests have their way, the St Croix will be side tracked into a huge pipeline to help move sand slurry directly to the oil fields of ND.

Surely we midwesterners deserve an extraction tax like the oil rich states get that keeps them from having state income taxes or like in Alaska pays them a yearly bribe to put up with the bother.  MN has a taconite mining fund; I imagine we could certainly add a few bucks per ton for extracted sand that sells for $100 - $200 per ton (numbers I heard mentioned). The Grantsburg mine at $1 per ton and their claim of 300,000 tons to be mined per year would add $300,000 to the budget of one of the poorest counties in the state--and it would be paid by the companies like Exxon or BP.

If you think you are hearing an opinion expressed here--there is;  it is fear of what large scale, unregulated mining could do to the St. Croix Valley.