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Mississippi River stories and news

January-February 2015

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From January-February 2015 Big River

Frac Sand Update

Sand Mine Fined

Trempealeau, Wis. — The Wisconsin Department of Justice imposed an $80,000 fine on the Alpine Sand Company, which runs frac sand mines and a processing center in Trempealeau County. The fine was for not preventing stormwater from running into a tributary of Newcomb Valley Creek.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources sent inspectors to the site five times between October 2012 and October 2013, and found that the company had failed to implement its stormwater plan. They repeatedly found stormwater draining into the creek, which is already listed as an impaired waterway, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Trempealeau County has the highest number of frac mines and processing centers in the state. Seven of the mines are currently operating, another 27 or 28 mines, processing centers or sites that include both have received permits but are not yet in operation.

The county's year-long moratorium ended August 31, 2014. A 147-page report by the county study committee said the frac stand industry is affecting water quality and that stormwater retention ponds, like the unused one at Alpine, should be 75 percent larger than originally required. (Madison Cap Times, 10-21-14)

Another Sand Mine Fined

North Branch, Minn. — The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) fined Tiller Corp. $85,000 for numerous violations. According to the MPCA, the company failed to submit equipment test results 45 times, exceeded air permit emission limits 25 times and exceeded noise limits four times. It also produced excessive noise at night. The air emissions included silica sand dust that can cause a lung disease called silicosis.

A representative said the company had made changes a year ago to solve the problems.

It was Tiller's second fine. The first occurred because the company didn't get its air-quality permits before starting construction in 2011.

Tiller operates in both Wisconsin and Minnesota, mining the sand in Wisconsin and hauling it to Minnesota for processing. (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 11-20-14; Inside Climate News, 11-26-14)

Many Sand Mines Fined

Lewiston, Minn. — Of the 47 frac sand companies currently operating in Wisconsin, 24 have seriously violated state regulations, manipulated local governments or engaged in influence peddling and conflicts of interest.
That was among the findings in a report released in early November by the nonprofit group Land Stewardship Project. Titled "Breaking the Rules for Profit: An Analysis of the Frac Sand Industry's Violations of State Regulations & Manipulation of Local Governments in Wisconsin," the report is based on public data and news reports.

The report covers violations by companies of various sizes, ranging from air quality problems to illegal drilling, to sediment and wastewater spills.
Researchers found that 20 of the 47 companies required substantial regulatory action to come into compliance, or else never did comply, even after court action and fines.

The group said the report should stand as a warning to communities and other states considering how to manage the industry. The report is available online.

Mapping Risk

Washington, D.C. — The Environmental Working Group has mapped a 33-county area that spans southeastern and south-central Minnesota, southwestern Wisconsin and northeastern Iowa.
It found:
• there are 71 operating sand mines and 27 processing sites, with another 82 mines or processing sites proposed or permitted;
• 58,000 people live less than half a mile from mines and sites;
• 162,000 people live less than a mile away;
• Winona County, Minn., has more people living closer than any other area, with 22,000 people living less than half a mile from frac sand sites and more than 62,000 within a mile;
Monroe County and Wood County, Wis., also have a high density of people living near sand facilities.
The organization called for more air quality monitoring to check the fine particulates drifting through the air from sand sites. (EWG, 9-25-14)

Risk Report

Newton, Mass. — The Civil Society Institute has released a 48-page research report on sand mining titled “Communities at Risk: Frac Sand Mining in the Upper Midwest.” It analyzes key concerns, including water issues, air quality issues and financial issues, and points out that while Wisconsin and Minnesota are now the states most heavily mined, “it is possible that mining will expand to sand deposits in at least 12 other states: Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia.”

Wisconsin is on track to sell about 50 million tons of frac sand per year, enough to fill the tallest building in the nation, the Willis Tower of Chicago (formerly known as Sears Tower), 21 times annually. Another report: "Danger in the Air" from the Environmental Working Group.

Year of Fishing

The 2015 Year of Fishing will get off to a good start this January with ice-fishing on the Upper Mississippi.

Mississippi River Connections Collaborative (MRCC), an informal network dedicated to connecting people to the river, is busy planning a series of events for the “YOF2015” celebration. The group includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Army Corps of Engineers, Mississippi River Trail and the Mississippi River Parkway Commission. It will encourage state and county parks, city recreation departments, fishing clubs and others from all ten states bordering the Mississippi River to host fishing events.

MRCC hosted the Summer of Paddling in 2012, when more than 17,700 people participated in 300 events. In 2013 the group sponsored the Year of Cycling, then it took a break in 2014.

Its goal is to get people out paddling, biking and fishing on their own. MRCC officials hope the events will create a lifelong interest in fishing by teaching the basics: safe fishing with the right equipment, how to identify fish and how to be a responsible angler who will conserve Mississippi River resources. Check the group’s website for scheduled events and information.


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