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Frac Sand Firm, Opponents Face Off in Iowa

According to The Gazette in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, opposition is rapidly mounting to a proposed frac sand operation in Allamakee County. “Mining interests are coming at us like a runaway bulldozer going 100 mph,” said Ric Zarwell of Lansing, leader of the Allamakee County Protectors, a growing cadre of local residents opposed to a proposal by a Minnesota firm to mine sand southwest of Lansing, near the Mississippi River.

“It’s just sand,” said Rick Frick of Houston, Minn., the founder of Minnesota Sands, the firm pursuing at least three mining leases in northeast Allamakee County. “It's strictly the choice of the landowner,” Frick said. “They call me to test their sand. I don't push anybody. It's up to them if they want to sell their sand.”

Frick's company has applied for a special-use permit to mine silica sand on an 11-acre site in the Sand Cove area near the Upper Iowa River about 5 miles southwest of New Albin.

A spokesman for Minnesota Sands, Geoff Griffin, chief executive officer of GGG Inc., a mining engineering firm in Chatfield, Minn., said he had been “looking at numerous sites in Allamakee County, doing borings all over the area.”

“You'd better be scared,” said Kelvin Rodolfo of Viroqua, Wis., professor emeritus of earth and environmental science at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Rodolfo, an avowed opponent of fracking and frac sand mining, said neither federal nor state rules provide any protection against fine, airborne crystalline silica, a known cause of silicosis, a serious respiratory disease.

Griffin attempted to allay residents' concerns. Fugitive dust at the mine will not be a problem, said Griffin, who asserted that the sand is moist when extracted and loaded on trucks. Noise at the mine will be less than 65 decibels, which Griffin said is comparable to the sound of human conversation. Griffin said from five to 10 loaded trucks per hour will leave the mine site with a similar number returning empty.