Editor's note: This is part one of a two-part series on a proposed surface mining operation in a rural area of Ste. Genevieve County. In this article will we cover transparency, and concerns related to logistics and noise. In the Friday edition we will cover water, health, property value and other issues.
STE. GENEVIEVE — Despite Summit Proppant’s efforts to quash property owner's fears Tuesday evening at the community center, many still feel angry and cheated by what they say is a lack of transparency about the operation and a lack of concern exhibited by public officials charged with protecting their well-being in relation to a proposed surface mine in a rural area of the county.
Summit Proppants Inc. has a permit pending approval by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to begin mining frac sand from a 73-acre tract on Colony Church Road. Mining will be done with explosives and heavy equipment. Material will be shipped in tractor-trailers to destinations in Bismarck and the Mississippi River. Executives say work will be done between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and possibly Saturday.
Area property owners are opposed to the operation due to possible environmental, health, safety, property value, a substantial increase in tractor-trailer traffic on certain county roads and quality of life issues. Many say they moved to the country to enjoy the benefits of that setting and not to live next door to an industrial area. They are also disgusted that a loophole in Missouri law apparently allowed the company to keep residents in the dark about the impending operation for several months.
The Land Reclamation Act requires surface mine operators to send a notice of intent by certified mail to property owners adjacent to the proposed site. Mike Miller, who lives directly across the road from the site asked why he, and in fact all the property owners adjacent to the mine property didn't get one.
According to Missouri Department of Natural Resources Environmental Specialist Bill Zeaman, Summit Proppants Inc. was exempt because they set the site boundary a few feet behind their property line.
"It gets back into that loophole; Summit Proppants or any applicant is required to contact the local government. Whereas there is a loophole concerning the property boundary and the mine plan boundary. If there is a separation between the mine plan boundary and the property line, there is no one considered adjacent or contiguous," Zeaman said.
Missouri Senator Gary Romine spoke from the gallery saying he had a real problem with that.
"Apparently, the way it was set up was to keep you from having to send that certified letter. The first thing I'm going to do is to go back to Jefferson City and fix that loophole. That bothers me. And you guys (mine executives) sit there not responding," Romine said.
Summit Operations VP Mark Rust's answer to the senator was, "we were told that was a legitimate practice that could be done."
"But you're talking about these folks having trust in you, and it's built on disclosure and full disclosure. And there was a lack of disclosure by not sending those letters out," Romine said.
The failure to disclose the operation in a timely manor was just one of a laundry list of concerns that the company tried to address Thursday.
With the use of explosives, heavy equipment and truck traffic, there will undoubtedly be noise. Summit plans to build an earthen berm around the operation to quash some of that noise. They also said upon doing some research they have discovered a "smart" back-up alarm that will reduce noise from heavy equipment.
"It might be 10, 15, 20 feet high, whatever height it takes to keep that noise from going out to the neighbors. We can adjust it as needed. If you (neighbors) are bothered by the noise, just let us know. We'll find out where it's coming from and get it closed up," said Rust.
One resident asked if there was some sort of standard measurement of noise by which the company could be held accountable, considering people have different levels of hearing. But except for blasting, which is held to state standards, and federal standards applied to truck manufacturers, there is not.
"My neighbor lives about a quarter mile away from me and he can hear my rooster crow, so…" someone from the gallery said.
"What's a second option for the berm, what are you going to do if we call you? Build a bigger berm?" another said.
These concerns led those opposing the mine to request confirmation that the company would only be running during the daytime. Rust assured them that there were no plans for a second shift, but would not confirm outright that it could never happen. He said he doesn't like night shifts because they are not efficient and the current business plan is for a day shift operation.
"It's not beneficial to do it (a second shift) so I would rather not do it. But to put it in writing, uh, I don't…I told you we'd consider it. That's the best we can do," Rust said.
He added that the residents have his word that the only reason for running the plant outside of normal hours would be due to extenuating circumstances.
"Let me tell you what I'm concerned about. If we got into late November, early December and a freeze is coming in, but good weather is coming two weeks after that. I really don't want to winterize the plant and shut down that extra two weeks. I would love to be able to get some lights, keep it minimal and run that plant for a night or two," Rust said.
Once again a resident asked Rust to put it in writing and once again Rust said he would consider it.
Logistics are major concerns that involve both Summit Proppants and Ste. Genevieve County. If DNR grants the mining permit, approximately 50 loads of material will be shipped from the plant on a daily basis.
That material will be transported in 18 wheelers to drop points in Bismarck and the port at New Bourbon. In order to accommodate the class A vehicles, Trogden Road will be paved and widened to 20 feet from the current 17 at the expense of the mining company. An escrow account will be set up to cover the cost of future maintenance. Trucks entering the plant will have to turn onto Trogden Road from Highway 32. The Missouri Department of Transportation is responsible for assessing that intersection and performing improvements if needed to accommodate the up to 53-foot-long trucks.
Residents are opposed to what will equate to an 18 wheeler passing by their home once every seven minutes in a peaceful rural area, the noise and dust from the trucks, safety, traffic enforcement and an increase in taxes due to the road upgrade.
Company officials say they will use a company, but could not say who, that will not use loud retarders or "Jake brakes." The loads will be covered by tarps, as required by state law.
County officials say the speed limit will be reduced. But apparently, reporting violations of traffic laws will be the responsibility of the homeowners, who are being asked to call the county or the company when they see an infraction.
"I think what I heard you say is that it's going to be up to us as residents to ascertain how fast a truck is going and then report it to the authorities," Jim Hardy, a property owner on Trogdan Road said.
Commissioner Nelson responded by saying, "That's one of the options. If you see a truck and you think he's going faster than the speed limit, write his truck number down, get with Mark, we'll send the sheriff out if you call us. The sheriff's not going to put a deputy out there full-time, but we'll get them out there. If we have problems we're not going to rely on you to police. You live there. You'll see who continually goes too fast. "
Nelson said the commission will let the residents decide what the speed limit should be.
"We will put the speed limit whatever the resident's want, that's not a problem. However when the speed limit is posted if a resident calls us and we send the sheriff off with his radar and a resident gets a ticket for 40-45 we don't want to hear any repercussions. The speed limit's there for everybody," Nelson said.
Residents say their way of life will be drastically affected. Many of them ride horses or walk on the country road, which according to residents will be difficult if not impossible once operations begin.
"It'd be basically what you do now. What do you do when cars come now? You can step off the road," Nelson said.
"I don't fight 18-wheelers all the time," Mike Miller said.
"I have two little 10-pound dogs. I'm not going to walk them with 18-wheelers zinging past me. There won't be any place to walk? I can't ride my horse on that road with a tractor trailer, there's no provision?" Resident Jane Hardy asked.
Nelson then looked to Rust and said, "You're basically working seven to five, five days a week." Which Rust confirmed and added they might add a possible Saturday make up day where the mine will shut down at 3 p.m.
"So I can walk my dogs between 'this' hour and 'this' hour," Jane Hardy said.
"Basically, that's the way it is," responded Nelson.
Residents also say checking the mail where boxes set on the opposite side of the road will be a hazard with the frequency of the trucks.
"My daughter and I have to cross the road to get our mail. How do you recommend we take care of that safety hazard? She loves to get our mail. Will she be allowed to get the mail out of the mailbox when we have 18-wheel trucks coming and going?" Trogden Road resident Shannon Chandler asked.
Rust replied, "You're the parent. That's up to you."
"We can't do simple everyday family things, such as getting our mail together, because your trucks are going to prevent that from happening," Chandler said.
School busses should not have a problem according to company officials. Rust assured parents that the company will work out a plan with the schools so there is not a safety issue.
There is also a cemetery on Trogden that residents say could be affected by widening the road. County officials said they will have to assess that problem, but will not disturb the gravesites.
Check the Friday edition for the continuation of this story.
Pat Pratt is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010 ext. 172 or email@example.com