ELKADER — A study is underway to determine the environmental and aesthetic impacts of a proposed expansion of Iowa’s only frack sand mine.
Clayton-based Pattison Sand Co. has requested that 746 acres near its existing mine along the Mississippi River be rezoned from agricultural to heavy industry to facilitate underground mining of the silica sand used in the hydraulic fracturing process of extracting oil and natural gas.
The Clayton County Planning and Zoning Commission, at its Dec. 8 meeting, tabled Pattison’s request after many county residents, including several neighbors of the mine, urged studies first be conducted to gauge the impacts of expanded mining in the scenic and environmentally sensitive area.
County Zoning Administrator Janet Ott said the supervisors have authorized formation of a five-member committee to gather information from similar pre-existing studies — including information from recent studies conducted by Winneshiek and Allamakee counties — and report back to the zoning commission, which would likely revisit the issue in May.
Ott also said Pattison Sand has hired a consultant to examine water and view shed issues.
“The big thing is you need to take a look at the impact of expanded mining for all people concerned,” Guttenberg Mayor Russ Loven said at the Dec. 8 meeting.
“Good-paying jobs are important, but you have to consider the long-term effects on tourism, the environment and quality of life,” Loven said.
Kay Vifian, who lives on 28 acres within a mile of the mine, said expanded mining could compromise the quality of life and aesthetics that first attracted her and her husband to the area.
M.J. Smith of Guttenberg, a former commissioner of the Iowa Great River Road, which runs past the Pattison mine, urged that preservation of scenery be considered in the zoning board’s deliberations.
Allamakee County Zoning Administrator Tom Blake, a Guttenberg resident, recommended the zoning commission take time to study the issue before acting.
“We have to have a balance in the county between jobs and the environment, and we all need to work together to figure it out,” Blake said.
Both Allamakee and Winneshiek counties — neither of which has an operating sand mine — have enacted zoning ordinances that make it difficult to start one.
In Clayton County, with Pattison Sand already operating a sand mine, “it is definitely a different situation,” Ott said.
Owner Kyle Pattison said the mining company has sand reserves on its existing property that will last more than 15 years.
The additional reserves secured through the zoning change “help us do a better job planning for the future,” he said.
Given that the zoning change would have minimum impact for many years, several attendees at the Dec. 8 meeting asked why there’s a hurry.
Ott said Pattison Sand, as with other big companies, is planning for its future.
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“We don’t want to draw the process out too long. It would not be fair to them,” she said.