By Bob Christie
NOTE: Land Stewardship Project members and staff met with Governor Mark Dayton about frac sand mining issues on Dec. 4 in Winona, Minn. The meeting began with Bob Christie of Utica, Minn., sharing his perspective as a lifelong farmer on why frac sand mining is wrong for southeast Minnesota. Gov. Dayton was visibly moved and asked for a copy of the statement, which is reproduced here:
Gov. Dayton, my name is Bob Christie and I have lived and farmed in Winona County for my entire life. My wife Marilyn and I have three daughters and seven grandchildren. We farm 320 acres, of which 215 acres are tillable, with the balance being rolling pastureland and woodland. We raise corn, beans, alfalfa and oats and fatten 125 to 150 Holstein steers annually. For 35 years we also operated a 40-cow dairy. The hours are many but it has been an occupation I love. This is my vision of a family farm.
It is my hope that one day one of my children or grandchildren will have the opportunities I have had to farm. Not until you have farmed a lifetime can you know the bond you feel with our land and livestock. I believe it is that bond that compelled me to get involved with the frac sand discussion and my presence here today.
It started for me some two years ago when I was approached by individuals wanting to purchase 80 acres of my farm for sand production. Not knowing what I know today, I asked “For what purpose?” I was told it would be railed to Texas and used for glass production. This became my first lesson on the integrity of the sand industry. Somewhat perplexed, I told the individuals the ground they wanted was cropland, pasture and woodland, not sand.
I was quickly told what they needed lay beneath what I saw. They would push off the “over burden” and “waste” to get to the sand. Surely not the 45 acres of cropland where each year I dream of producing more than the year before could be considered “over burden waste,” could it? Surely not the rolling hills of grass, where in mid-May my dairy cows grazed until with bellies bulging they lay content in the afternoon sun could be “over burden waste,” ould it? Most certainly not the brush and woodland where each spring in a turkey blind or fall in a deer-stand, with my grandchildren, eternal memories are formed. That couldn’t possibly be “over burden waste.” We all have two eyes but what we see is often very different as individuals. This was lesson two I learned about the ETHICS of the frac sand industry.
I’m fortunate to have made a good living farming, so their million-dollar pay day was of no interest to me or my vision of land use. I kindly asked them to leave and not come back. Others I’m afraid may not share my vision and bad choices will be made. It is my belief that to own land only gives us a lifetime lease on it. It is our moral responsibility to pass it on to the next generation in as good or better condition as we received it in. It is the way not only agriculture but all life can be sustainable. I don’t believe anything I have witnessed in the frac sand industry makes that an achievable goal.
I have concerns about the unaffordability of land for beginning farmers as the result of escalating land prices caused by individuals selling marginal land and using sand profits to price it beyond reach of all but the rich. I also have concerns for the complexity of industrial and agricultural zones overlapping. I have concerns of rising property taxes attributed to inflated land values.
I wonder what will happen to our groundwater after removing 20, 40 or 80 feet of sand, nature’s perfect filter. Will our aquifers be sustainable in the face of water demands from processing plants and the threat from chemical wash ponds? What will be the effect to our air quality from silica dust? Will the tremendous sand hauling truck traffic be compatible with public as well as agricultural commerce, both trucks and tractors? Who will bear the burden of road repairs? What will be the effect on tourism, the life blood of so many communities in southeast Minnesota?
It was my involvement with discussions on the sand processing plant proposed for the city of Saint Charles that quickly educated me on the realities of the sand industry. It allowed me the opportunity to be part of a tour to see firsthand what the sand industry was doing for Wisconsin. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and this tour was worth many more.
Every decision maker should be required to view firsthand the sand industry in Wisconsin before offering a Yes or No vote on policy making. This tour impacted me in a way I hadn’t imagined it could, with processing plant after processing plant operating or under construction and with trucks everywhere. Nothing affected me more than our stop at the Superior Sand Mine. It was there that the full wrath of the industry could be witnessed. I looked at the beautiful hills of pines and hardwoods clear-cut from top to bottom, being dozed clean of all life to expose mountains of white sand. The sickened feeling of what I saw has compelled me to help in any way I can to keep this industry from destroying our beautiful region of southeast Minnesota.
I hope my time today has allowed you to feel the sincerity of my effort to keep southeast Minnesota as it is today, not only for my generation but for many, many more to come. There are many young people who want to farm and we must do what we can to make that happen. I thank you Governor for your time today and your leadership in this effort.
LSP member Bob Christie farms in rural Winona County, in southeast Minnesota.