Mississippi Sand LLC is requesting permits to mine for frac sand adjacent to the east side of Starved Rock State Park. Illinois is home to St Peters Sandstone which produces a silica sand that is ideal propellant for fracking (the process used to extract natural gas).The mine site is 315 acres, and the company is expecting to mine for 40 years, creating 39 jobs and generating 10 billion dollars in sales. The mine will create an 80 foot deep pit that the company plans to leave as a “lake” when finished mining.
The Ernat family has the owned property since 1940s where they farmed and ran a sawmill. In 2011, Mississippi Sand applied for a special use permit to begin mining. For the permit to be granted, the LaSalle County Zoning Board of Appeals had to recommend to the county board whether or not to grant a special use for mining in an agricultural area.
The Zoning Board
So many people tried to attend the original zoning meeting in November 2011 that it was rescheduled for December in a larger location. Around 200 folks attended the hearings on Dec. 14-15, 2011 which lasted until almost midnight for two evenings, with the board hearing roughly 14 hours of testimony. During the nearly 7-hour meeting on Thursday, Ottawa attorney Paul Martin, who was retained by three members of the Citizens Against a Starved Rock Sand Pit, opened testimony by submitting more than 1,000 hand-written petitions against the sand mine. He included another 640 online signatures acquired at the citizens group’s Facebook page.
Martin used testimony from a number of local property owners and more than a dozen separate exhibits to show the site contains historical Native American artifacts. The landowners all agreed living next to a sand mine operation would negatively impact their livelihood and property values.
The ZBA voted unanimously for the mine.
LaSalle County Board
At the Jan 12, 2012 county board meeting, Paul Martin spoke again for the residents opposing the mine along with President of Mississippi Sand LLC Tony Giordano and the company’s attorney Jonathan Brandt. The Sierra Club had gathered over 6,000 petition signatures urging the county to vote “no” which had been delivered earlier in the week to the county board office. Illinois Lt. Governor Sheila Simon sent each board member a letter urging a delay on the vote so the county could deliberate further on the impacts on Starved Rock State Park.
The LaSalle County Board voted to approve permit for mining in a 20-6 vote.
Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources
In September and October of 2011 Mississippi Sand went through the IDNR consultation process. The consultation indicated that Ernat’s Marsh INAI site may be adversely modified or jeopardized and IDNR’s recommended that “measures should be implemented to avoid altering water quality in Ernat’s Marsh by avoiding any direct discharge into it. Specifically, an NPDES discharge point should be selected which avoids any alteration of ambient water quality in Ernat’s Marsh. This can be achieved by piping water to be discharge to a point downstream of Ernat’s Marsh.” The mine agreed to avoid impacting the marsh for at least 20 years.
Mississippi Sand will also need an Aggregate Mining Permit from the Office of Mines and Minerals.
Part of the mining site is located in a High Probability Archaeological Area. The University of Illinois conducted limited investigations of the site in 1987. Artifacts dating from 10,000 years ago were found. It is likely that the site contains significant cultural deposits and may likely be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
Mississippi Sand submitted an application for an air permit for a sand mining operation on Nov. 16, 2011.
Mississippi Sand will also need a NPDES permit to discharge wastewater from their sand mining and processing operations.