Big River Magazine
Mississippi River stories and news

November-December 2012

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From November-December 2012 Big River

Frac Sand Update

• Bridgeport, Wis. — Pattison Sand of Clayton, Iowa, has proposed to establish a large frac sand mine on several properties along the Wisconsin River in Crawford County, including sites within the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway. Laws governing activity along the Riverway restrict visible development, but not noise or dust. The Lower Wisconsin Riverway Board was scheduled to hold a public meeting on the proposal in mid-October.

• Wabasha, Minn. — Superior Sand Systems Inc. is preparing applications for permits to open a second sand processing facility in town. It would get sand from about 200 trucks per day, most of which would cross the bridge from mines in Wisconsin.

City officials said they are still studying the plan and the frac sand industry as a whole. Residents have voiced concern about safety, noise, pollution and roads, not to mention the hours of operation (6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends). The county’s moratorium could be extended as far as August 2013.

• Winona, Minn. — The Winona County Board voted to require an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) be completed for the Nisbit Mine, the first mine to apply for permits after the county’s moratorium ended. The county’s Planning Board had earlier decided an EAW was not necessary, ignoring the opinions of more than 100 citizens who’d signed a petition asking for the EAW.

“My vote was based on what I saw happening in my community. It divided the township I live in, the city I call home, the district I represent, and the county where I currently serve as board chair,” said Mena Kaehler, chair of the Winona County Board (Winona Daily News, 10-10-12)

• The state of Wisconsin announced it would begin a five-year study of the potential effect of sand mining and processing on aquifers within the state. The $500,000-plus study will focus on the high-capacity withdrawal of groundwater that is needed for processing and its impact on underground water supplies, which are vital to support streams and rivers, as well as farm irrigation.
Study partners include the Chippewa County Department of Land Conservation and Forest Management, Wis. Geological and Natural History Survey and the U.S. Geological Survey. Chippewa County currently has many large mines and a large processing plant at Chippewa Falls. (Star Tribune, 10-10-12)

Frac Sand Updates From September-October Big River:

• Red Wing, Minn. — State senator John Howe has asked Minnesota governor Mark Dayton to order a General Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) of the silica sand mining industry in Minnesota and for $1 million to fund the study. Howe said that small towns and communities are “not used to dealing with something on this scale.” Besides, he said, there is not enough information or expertise available “to make the important decisions which affect the health and safety of the citizens of my district.”

Several mining moratoriums are set to expire in the next few months. Howe thinks the state senate is not likely to take up the issue in an August special session, which means the legislature isn’t likely to discuss a GEIS this year. (Minneapolis Star Tribune 7-24-12)

• Washington, D.C. — By a vote of 256 to 160, the U.S. House passed a bill (HR4402) to ease environmental rules and limit lawsuits in order to quicken agency reviews of applications to mine on public land in the West. The bill will also speed action on permits for sand and gravel mining, designating them “infrastructure projects” to make them eligible for fast-tracked government reviews. (St. Paul Pioneer Press, 7-15-12)

• Caledonia, Minn. — In July, the Houston County Board decided an old sand mine could continue to operate under an existing permit, even though the mine has changed ownership and the scale of the operation has expanded. The board gave the mine an exception to the county’s year-long moratorium against new mines, established in March. In August, citizens opposed to the mine presented a petition to the state Environmental Quality Board, asking for an environmental asessment worksheet (EAW) to be required of the Tracie Erickson mine, which archeologists say is likely to contain Native American burial sites because it overlooks areas on the Root River.

At press time, the board had yet to decide whether to require the EAW. At a late July meeting, the board amended the moratorium to halt all sand mines, not just new ones, except for the Tracie Erickson mine.

The operator of the Tracie Erickson mine intends to mine 2 million cubic yards of sand before its current permit expires in January, and transport it to Winona for processing and shipping.

• St. Paul — Citizens of the St. Anthony Park neighborhood have raised the alarm about the open cars of sand that sit in a nearby railyard. Officials from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad have insisted there is no health hazard, because only wet, unprocessed, raw sand is carried in open cars, and processed sand is always carried in covered cars. The neighborhood is asking for independent air monitoring. (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 6-27-12)

• St. Charles, Minn. — Amish people rarely discuss political issues openly or attend political meetings, but 60 Amish families have joined other St. Charles citizens to voice their concerns about Farm2Rail, a proposed, 300-acre sand processing and rail center. The proposed center is a few miles away from several major sand mines and Amish farms. Farm2Rail aims to become a regional transportation center for the frac sand industry, receiving 400 to 800 trucks per day. Amish families who live, have schools, and drive horse-drawn buggies and wagons on Highway 37 say frac-sand truck traffic would destroy their way of life.

Farm2Rail developers have agreed to an environmental review of the project. (Winona Daily News, 7-25-12; Minneapolis Star Tribune, 7-12-12)

See earlier Frac Sand Updates: September-October 2012 July-August 2012 May-June 2012 January-February 2012 •  Read Sand Dollars — Mining Frac Sand in the River Valley (pdf) from July-August 2011.

Paddle & Shoot

The Friends of the Upper Mississippi River Refuges is looking for paddlers’ eye views of the river, and they’re sponsoring a photo contest to bring together images that best “capture the spirit of paddling the Mississippi River.” The only requirements are that the photos must be taken on the Mississippi and have a canoe or kayak in them — at least a portion of one.

Photos from amateurs and professionals will be accepted through November 16, 2012, by mail or in person at the Winona offices of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, 51 E. Fourth St., Rm. 101, Winona, MN 55987. Download the Summer of Paddling Photo Contest Entry Form and rules (pdf) here.

For more information, call Cindy Samples, 507-494-6216, or visit the refuge website.

The contest is part of the Summer of Paddling 2012 celebration being sponsored by organizations in 10 states.

Exhibits: War Paint & Watercolors

St. Paul — The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 was a violent, six-week struggle that horrified Dakota people, settlers and the nation, and ended with the hanging of 38 Dakota men at Mankato, Minn., the largest mass execution in U.S. history. On June 30, 150 years after the event, the Minnesota History Center, in downtown St. Paul, will open a new exhibit about the war.

The war, also called the “Dakota Conflict” and the “Sioux Uprising,” followed decades of deceit and broken promises made by the government to the Dakota people, and its effects are still felt today. The exhibit includes many points of view, and is part of a broader initiative called a “truth recovery” project involving Dakota people and descendants of original settlers.

The History Center will sponsor events and activities at many historical sites related to the war.

Oneota Village

Archaeologists recovered a record number of artifacts from a large prehistoric village site near the town of Wever in southeast Iowa, from 1992 to 1994. The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) recently released a report on the discoveries. Wever Bypass Excavations (pdf)

The village was settled about 700 years ago by Oneota people, ancestors of the Ioway, Otoe, Missouria and Ho-Chunk (Winnebago).

The site was discovered in the mid 1970s during the Great River Road Survey contracted by the DOT. The survey recorded more than 275 new archaeological sites in seven of 10 Iowa counties bordering the Mississippi River.

The collection of artifacts from the Wever Bypass dig is the largest ever recovered from an Oneota site in Iowa. Archaeologists exposed 1,792 prehistoric features and excavated or sampled 92 percent of them. The excavation produced 191,494 artifacts, including stone, bone, stone tools, pieces of pottery from more than 370 vessels, and an assortment of items made from lead, shale and native copper.

At least 150 to 200 people probably lived year round at the site, with the most intense occupation around A.D. 1300. Fragments of animal bone and plant remains recovered from underground pits indicate the people grew maize, beans, squash, sunflowers and tobacco on the extensive Mississippi bottomlands east of the village. Their diet also included small mammals, fish, reptiles, birds, many species of turtles and 34 species of freshwater mussel.

The massive collection of artifacts from the excavation now resides at the Office of the State Archaeologist at the University of Iowa, in Iowa City. It’s available for exhibit and study by archaeologists and students. Wever Bypass Excavations (pdf)

Raze the Depot?

Moline, Ill. — The turn-of-the-century train depot on the Moline riverfront may soon be razed to make room for the new I-74 bridge across the Mississippi River. Preservationists thought they had a deal to move the building to the Quad Cities campus of Western Illinois University, where it would become a welcome center. The deal seemed to fall apart on September 25, however, when the Moline City Council voted to sell the building to the state. The state will raze it if Moline won’t help with relocation costs. Members of the city council said they oppose using public money to move the depot during tight econmic times.

The nonprofit Moline Preservation Committee is trying to raise an estimated $155,000 for the local share of the cost.

The distinctive red-tiled building opened in 1900 as the Davenport, Rock Island, and Northwestern Depot. It is the last remaining rail depot in Moline, at least until the new Amtrak station opens.

Return of Invasive Plants

Water lettuce in foreground with water hyacinth in back. (Click photo to enlarge)

Buffalo City, Wis. — Water hyacinth, water lettuce and parrot feather — three aggressive invasive aquatic plants — were discovered in the backwaters of Pool 5 near Buffalo City, this summer. This is the second year in a row that water hyacinth and water lettuce were found. After the first year, biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wisconsin Department of Natural ­Resources speculated that the plants wouldn’t survive winter temperatures, because they are native to warmer climes in South America. But this year there were a lot more of them, likely the result of seeds overwintering.

The first year, the agencies destroyed an estimated 1,500 plants. This year they found 10,000 plants, along with a third aggressive Brazilian plant, parrot feather. This time, instead of pulling the plants by hand they used herbicide (a mixture of 2,4-D and diquat). According to Mary Stefanski, manager of the Winona District of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, chemical treatment is not preferred, but it is the best method to stop these invasive species before they destroy beneficial native plants.

Parrot feather (Click photo to enlarge)

Expanding Floatzilla

Davenport, Iowa — The number of participants in the Floatzilla Paddle Sports Celebration was up this year over last year, but not enough to break the world record. This year 1,582 paddlers from 17 states gathered for an aerial photo, taken amid an August weekend paddle festival that included tours of the area, shows, music and food. Last year 1,503 paddlers participated.

The Davenport-based nonprofit River Action sponsored the event and is trying to break the world record of 1,902 kayaks and canoes in a single raft, which was set in Lake Inlet, New York in 2011.


To read more Mississippi River news and stories, order this issue or find Big River at one of these retail outlets.

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