Not since the Holcim Cement Kiln proposal in 2006 have environmentalists in Eastern Missouri been as concerned about a proposal for industrial land use in St. Genevieve. At issue now: A NexGen Silica mining plan.
On March 4, 2022, Nexgen Silica submitted to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Land Reclamation Program, an application for a permit for a sandstone mine in Ste. Genevieve County along Highway 32 for 249 acres.
At a May public hearing, Larry Lehman, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, explained that blasting, and blasting-related concerns, were not regulated by the Land Reclamation Program, but by the Division of Fire Safety in the Department of Public Safety.
Lehman also addressed a health ordinance regarding silica sand mining instituted by Ste. Genevieve County. Lehman explained that a permit for the project did not exempt its holder from any relevant federal, state or local laws and regulations, including the health ordnance.
Roger Faulkner of Nexgen took the floor and introduced individuals to address blasting issues, the wet plant process that would work to reduce water use, and issues such as sediment leaving the property and damaging watershed.
During the public comment period, meeting participants introduced such concerns as:
– Endangered species that might be eliminated or displaced. Would a conservation agent assess impacts on hunting and fishing in the area? Would the project impact preserved wildlife areas?
– Would a silica mine operating for 50 years denigrate nearby watershed and parks? Parks include Horton Farms Conservation Area, Hawn State Park, and Hickory Canyon Natural Area – all within a few miles of the proposed 240-acre silica mine.
– The area is home to spectacular migratory birds from Central and South America. How would the mine affect migrating birds that prefer thick, uninterrupted pine woods found in the area?
– Noise pollution from giant dump trucks backing up, equipped with screaming reverse alarms at 150-200 decibels, will cause problems even at night because it will be a 24/7 operation.
– Dark Sky Parks are very popular now in the United States. Hawn State Park can never designated as a Dark Sky Park for viewing the Milky Way with the 24/7 plant operations.
– Wildlife and humans will be exposed to silica dust and carcinogens. The displacement of wildlife in the neighboring woods will be in a county will cause animal overcrowding where CWD disease is already a known concern for whitetail deer.
DNR and Nexgen sought to address many of the concerns of regional environmentalists and a local group known as Operation Sand that opposes the project.
Recently, the Missouri Mining Commission voted 4-1 to revoke a permit given to Nexgen in June for the silica project. However, the battle over the mine proposal is far from over.
The rejection is probably temporary and was more germane to technical issues with the application, rather than with issues raised by regional environmentalists and the Operation Sand activist group.
Some environmentalists oppose the mine operation because it will provide silica sand for fracking for fossil fuels. Fracking has become controversial technique to bring up fossil fuels, in part, because of earthquakes in adjacent areas and petroleum’s impact on climate change.
Missouri resident Jo Schaper, who has family in the Ste Genevieve area, is a trained geologist and conservationist. She said she also is a pragmatist about development, jobs and local economies.
“My concerns for the silica mine are that they do not impact groundwater, and therefore people’s wells,” said Schaper. “Also, the mine must come up with mining methods that will result in a usable landscape on the other side of the extraction.
“There need to be workable reclamation plans, and the company’s heels should be held to the fire to achieve them,” Schaper said.
Schaper said NexGen must think ahead, and not have someone else clean up messes resulting from the proposed operations. Schaper said many state parks were once industrial waste sites. So, there is precedent for successful reclamation of such sites.
According to Schaper, NexGen undoubtedly is aware of fracking operators who would be ready buyers of LaMotte sand made available from mining in Ste. Genevieve.
Fracking is a technique that uses sand to bring up oil and gas deposits in areas such as Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and the Dakotas. The success of fracking has furthered U.S. ambitions for energy independence.
“I have some concerns about this LaMotte sandstone being mined and used for fracking,” noted Schaper. “But fracking is a tradeoff. The oil and gas industry is not just going to lie down and fade away easily.
“Electric cars are getting there, but until auto manufacturers come up with a reliable cold weather battery, they aren’t going to be the only answer for transportation needs,” said Schaper.
“Frankly, I’d much rather have affordable hybrids now, and frack North Dakota, than deal with the Middle East oil sheiks,” Schaper said.