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Despite setback for Missouri silica sand mine, the fight isn’t over for neighbors

Ste. Genevieve County residents formed a group called Operation Sand to organize and oppose NexGen Silica's mine based on health concerns.
Jillian Ditch Anslow
Ste. Genevieve County residents formed a group called Operation Sand to organize and oppose NexGen Silica's mine based on health concerns.

NexGen has proposed mining silica sand in Ste. Genevieve County on about 250 acres near Hawn State Park. But Missouri didn’t conduct any sort of review of the potential environmental or public health impacts of the mine before issuing a land reclamation permit last year.

Missouri regulators handed a setback to a proposed silica sand mine south of St. Louis earlier this month when they revoked a pivotal permit. But the fight isn’t over for opponents of the mine.

While state regulators denied one permit to NexGen, the would-be owners of the proposed mine, they almost simultaneously granted the company a wastewater permit for the site. And even the Missouri Mining Commission’s decision to revoke the first permit wasn’t as decisive as opponents hoped.

“This was a great victory. Like, we won this battle. But we still have a long, long road ahead of us,” said Jillian Ditch Anslow, a high school biology teacher and representative of Operation Sand, a citizens’ group organized in opposition to the mine.

NexGen received its land reclamation permit last year despite objections from neighbors who fear the mine will mean toxic dust particles in the air, contaminated water and noisy disruptions to the rural community. But following an appeal, the state’s Administrative Hearing Commission recommended environmental regulators vacate it.

The commission said in a November order that NexGen didn’t comply with the requirement to list all owners of property the company would mine and didn’t show a source saying it had a legal right to mine.

The Missouri Mining Commission agreed in part and voted 4-1 to vacate the permit.

But before that decision becomes final on Tuesday, Operation Sand’s attorney, Stephen Jeffery, wants the commission to explain why. He filed a motion with the commission, saying the law requires the mining commission to either agree completely with the Administrative Hearing Commission or modify it “only if the commission states in writing the specific reason for a change.”

“Because clearly (the Missouri Department of Natural Resources) did not investigate the application,” Jeffery said. “They admitted that in depositions. All they did is, ‘Well, we looked at the application and all the spaces were filled in and it was signed, so it was good.’”

NexGen declined an interview request but said in a statement that it was disappointed in the decision.

“However, the development of our overall plan is a long process,” said Clark Bollinger, NexGen Silica’s general manager, “and we are confident that we will acquire our required permits to move forward with our original plan.”

Asked for an interview, DNR issued a statement confirming the Missouri Mining Commission had voted to reverse the department’s decision and noting the Jan. 17 deadline for the commission to issue its final written decision.

DNR said NexGen has yet to apply for its air permit, but it has a wastewater permit that took effect on Jan. 1. Bollinger said the company was pleased with the decision and that it was confident the plan would adhere to DNR’s standards.

Ditch Anslow said her group would appeal that decision, too.

The state didn’t conduct any sort of review of the potential environmental or public health impacts of the mine before issuing the land reclamation permit last year.

Larry Lehman, director of the land reclamation program for DNR, said in August that the law only required applicants to provide company information and show their legal right to mine the property.

NexGen’s site is proposed in Ste. Genevieve County about two miles from Hawn State Park. Friends of Hawn, along with Operation Sand, has opposed the permit.

While the struggle over NexGen’s permits continues at the state agency, Ste. Genevieve County also faces a court fight from the mining company.

The County Commission adopted a set of regulations for mining operations that would effectively bar NexGen from executing its project.

The company sued, saying state law prohibits Ste. Genevieve County from adopting the ordinance and that the county violated the Missouri Sunshine Law.

In its answer filed with the Ste. Genevieve Circuit Court, the county commission denied the company’s claims.

The lawsuit is entering the discovery process.

This story was originally published by the Missouri Independent, part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence.

Copyright 2023 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Allison Kite is a data reporter for The Missouri Independent and Kansas Reflector, with a focus on the environment and agriculture.
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