Archive for Thursday, February 28, 2013

Douglas County won’t have final say on open-pit sand mining operation

February 28, 2013


Douglas County commissioners may still be months away from granting a conditional use permit that would allow an open-pit sand mining operation along the Kansas River near Eudora.

But even if the county gives its final OK, several more agencies will have to agree before the pit mine is allowed to open.

"A typical application would require six to eight additional permits beyond this," said Dan Watkins, an attorney representing Penny's Concrete and Van LLC, owners of the property where the mining operation would be located.

After a lengthy public hearing Wednesday, commissioners tentatively agreed to grant a permit, subject to the findings of pre-dredging analysis of the underground aquifer beneath the site. That aquifer is the municipal water supply source for the city of Eudora as well as several nearby landowners.

The report would be conducted at the applicant's expense by an independent consulting firm selected by the county

The permit would be subject to a long list of conditions, and the county would reserve the right to attach even more conditions, depending on the findings of the pre-dredging analysis. The county also would reserve the right to deny the permit entirely if that analysis finds that the sand pit would pose a serious threat to those water supplies.

Assuming all of that occurs, Watkins said, the next step would likely be to apply for a stormwater discharge permit from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. That permit is required under federal clean water regulations.

In addition, Watkins said, there is a possibility that the mine would need a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, depending on whether the county requires the applicants to take measures to protect the river bank from erosion.

It's also likely that two separate divisions of the Kansas Department of Agriculture would need to issue permits: the Division of Conservation, which regulates land reclamation for surface mines; and the Division of Water Resources, which may have to approve a water right if the mine diverts a significant amount of water out of the river.

Plans for repairing the land after the mining operation is finished weighed heavily at the public hearing Wednesday. The plan calls for the mine to operate in a series of phases, with reclamation taking place at each phase when the mine shifts from one area to another.

The actual pit where the sand is extracted would be converted to a private recreational lake, with requirements that it be made to look as natural as possible, with berms around the edge to protect it from runoff contamination.

That lake was also a source of concern for Eudora and surrounding landowners because they fear it could affect both the quality and quantity of of their water supplies. That is one of the issues to be addressed in the pre-dredging analysis.

But others, including Commissioner Nancy Thellman, expressed concern that there may be little authority to enforce reclamation requirements, especially if the mine closes temporarily or the operators go bankrupt.

Scott Carlson, manager of the Mined Land Reclamation Program at the Department of Agriculture, said his agency has little authority to enforce those requirements until the mine closes permanently.

Carlson said there have been instances when mine operators close a mine for an extended period without shutting it down permanently and allow the area to fall into a state of disrepair.

In those cases, he said, "there's little the state can do."


08Champs 5 years ago

The pre-dredging analysis that has been indicated is not enough in my opinion. IF they are granted the permits to proceed, then an annual analysis should be done as the dredging continues, so that if it is determined that damage is occuring that was not "projected" or imagined, then the operation can be stopped. If Penny's is not willing to agree to this (because they would have significant capital invested at that point) then it should not proceed.

Richard Heckler 5 years ago

Should require a large insurance bond before any operation could go forward say around $50 million protective and rebuild $$$$$$$$$$$.

If they up an leave with damaged goods as the end result all they need to do is file bankruptcy and they are scott free.

BringBackMark 5 years ago

Everyone is treating VAN, LLC like the bad guy here. Keep in mind that this wouldn't be an issue if the USACE would renew dredging permits on the (sand saturated) Kansas River. For those of you that think taking a little sand out of the river is going to cause the entire River system to fail, please don't waste your time commenting about that. Keep the scale of what we're talking about here in perspective.

Finally, if all of the previously posted requirements were placed on this permit, good luck being able to afford sand and gravel in Douglas County. How is Lawrence going to become a retirement mecca without sand and gravel to build resthomes and such?

commonsenseplease 5 years ago

I carry flood insurance just to protect my own home. Do I expect my home to be destroyed? Who believes another flood won't eventually come? The next flood will change the entire dynamic effect of this pit on the river. It was discussed that the damage to the river from the pit in a flood will be both upstream and downstream, including potentially far enough upstream to affect Bowersock just a few miles away. What cost would that damage be? The cost of rebuilding Eudora's contaminated water supply was estimated in the several million. Not to mention everyone else using the aquifer.

When it was asked in the Commission meeting how much insurance Penny carries it was stated to be the standard $1 million minimum required of any business. The absolute minimum! Is this sufficient in this situation? There was no further talk in this meeting of a bond or increased insurance requirements. Penny's reps simply stated he would be liable whether or not his insurance covered all the damages. Is this enough? What does "liable" mean exactly if he goes bankrupt from lawsuits in a disaster? Hundreds of hours of discussion, reports by experts and 500 pages of dialogue have already been devoted to the question of health and safety of this project. We THINK it's safe? Wouldn't it be wise of the county to demand some REAL insurance or a bond? Eudora residents have asked repeatedly for this!

Yet a bond doesn't appear to be a blip on the Commissioner's screen right now, even though the obvious potential is that the final blighted, destroyed land with a massive lake THROUGH the aquifer (a contamination route to the aquifer forever, requiring maintenance forever) would likely fall to the County (and tax dollars of the residents) to maintain in a disaster. Or if no one wants to buy this blighted land after Penny is through with it. Or after Penny dies. Or if Penny goes back on the river. Or if Penny doesn't maintain it as required (???) Or if the next owner doesn't responsibly maintain it. Or... or....

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