Mine reserve expansion committee finalizes report

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A small group of landowners, Pattison Sand employees, and community members attended Thursday night's meeting of the mine reserve expansion study committee. (Press photo by Molly Moser)

By Molly Moser

A small group gathered at the Clayton County office building in Elkader for what was the final meeting of the mine reserve expansion study committee on July 21. All five committee members were present: Jack Knight, Tom Blake, Anne Osmundson, Mike Finnegan, and Roy Blair. 

The committee reviewed public comments on their draft report given at the July 7 meeting, categorized into each of the 16 recommended restrictions, which are all listed with the committee’s reasons for motion. The first restriction, regarding vent shaft setback, monitoring, and closure, was amended after a thorough discussion to 1,500 feet of setback from property lines (rather than from residences and structures), unless the adjoining property owner agrees to a lesser setback. Patrick O’Shaughnessy, University of Iowa Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, recommended a quarter mile distance between residences and vent shafts.  

“This is the single most important thing the public has asked us to do,” said Knight with regard to vent shaft placement. When no longer needed, the committee recommends that shafts be permanently closed by mine owner or property owner to protect people and animals on the property, prevent infiltration by ground water, storm water, and other possible sources of contaminants into the mine, and to return the site to its pre-mining condition. 

The second restriction states that truck trailers used for transport of sand must be covered to lessen the dispersion of silica sand particles into the atmosphere and along public roads for the health and safety of the public – whether the truck is loaded or empty, applied to owned and contracted trucks or trailers. 

The third restriction addressed another top concern, water supply. According to the restriction, Pattison Sand is responsible for any well damage that can be attributed to mine activity. As per a commenter’s suggestion, Knight made a motion to alter that restriction to make Pattison responsible for any well damage, including the lowering of the static water level, that can be attributed to mining. 

Restriction number four states that the mine operator agrees to provide annual well water testing for wells within the proposed rezone area and located on property adjoining the rezoned area. Committee members agreed that once yearly testing was sufficient. The document lists a variety of compounds and ingredients that should be tested to address the health and safety of mining neighbors. Testing may also be offered to well owners within a quarter mile of mining area at least one year prior to any mining activity. The fifth restriction requires acrylamide testing in surface water discharge, following recommendations from the Iowa Department of National Resources and the Iowa Department of Public Health. 

The sixth restriction limits blasting time to between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m., notifying property owners within a quarter mile of blasting at least three days in advance of blasting. The committee also added a recommendation that Pattison Sand hire a licensed and bonded engineering firm to design a mine tunnel located under Great River Road and guarantee that the tunnels won’t lead to collapse of the road, and accepts responsibility for damages resulting from mine operation. No changes were made to this restriction based on July 7 comments. 

Restrictions on land use are addressed in four instances in the report, including clarification that underground-only mining includes tunnel exits and entrances, and that all activity will be underground and nothing other than vent shafts will be visible above ground. These restrictions also address rezoning application changes, tunnel use for storage and disposal, and site inspections, non-compliance, and corrective actions by the zoning administrator. 

Environmental concerns are addressed in restrictions 12 and 13. These recommendations would require Pattison Sand to hire a consulting firm to perform on-site surveys for threatened or endangered species as well as archaeological features before vent shaft locations and access road locations are determined, prior to construction. If surveys identify any such species of features, the site should be photographed and protected by a barrier to prevent damage and the vent shall be moved to another location.

Blair noted there were many comments regarding environmental concerns, including one to record a GPS location of the site if threatened or endangered species are found. He made a motion to add GPS location recordings of such sites, which passed unanimously. 

The committee decided to recategorize restriction number 13 as a recommendation, suggesting county officials research the county’s ability to require reclamation plans for mines and quarries and to require a reclamation bond that will cover the estimated full cost of reclamation. During Thursday’s meeting, committee members noted that there will be minimal reclamation required after underground mining operations are complete. 

The report also addresses the view shed of the Great River Road, stating that Pattison Sand will agree not to store sand mined from the rezoned area in piles visible from Great River Road. The committee opted not to incorporate a suggestion from a commenter to keep operations invisible from the river as well as from Great River Road. “Clayton County has invested a lot of money in this company, and there has to be some give and take here,” said Finnegan.

Restriction number 15 requires Pattison to file an emergency plan with the county, updated annually, and including a map of all tunnels and a list of all chemicals stored on the property. 

Finally, the draft report recommends that the Board of Adjustment be given the authority to approve a variance from established conditions to provide Pattison Sand a process used to appeal for hardship due to unforeseen circumstances that may occur at a later time. 

Other comments requested restrictions and recommendations for air monitoring, of which the report contained none, and Osmondsun made a motion to add specific verbiage for such a restriction. Blake seconded, and all committee members were in favor of the motion. 

The draft report will next be presented to the county planning and zoning board. To view the draft report, visit http://www.claytoncountyiowa.net/boards-committees/planning-and-zoning-c....

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