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."