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Missouri activists say water permit issued for Ste. Genevieve silica mine will allow pollution

 Ste Genevieve Counnty residents have been fighting efforts by NexGen Mining Inc. to mine silica in their county.
Niara Savage
Missouri Independent
Ste Genevieve Counnty residents have been fighting efforts by NexGen Mining Inc. to mine silica in their county.

Environmentalists have asked the state Administrative Hearing Commission to overturn a water permit for a silica mine in Ste. Genevieve. Residents and environmentalists say the permit would allow the mine to release contaminants in the local water supply.

Environmental groups are challenging a Missouri Department of Natural Resources decision to issue a water permit to a silica mine in Ste. Genevieve.

The department issued a water permit for NexGen Silica in December. In an appeal of the decision to the state Administrative Hearing Commission, the Sierra Club, Friends of Hawn and Operation Sand said the Department of Natural Resources should not have approved a water permit for NexGen Silica without a public hearing. Environmentalists have asked the commission to overturn the permit.

The groups also claim the mine would pollute water and contaminate nearby natural resources.

“There's going to be silica dust in the air, it's going to run off in the water,” said Ethan Thompson, a staff attorney for Great Rivers Environmental Law Center. “There's also other potential contaminants that are going to flow from the mine into this tributary of Establishment Creek.”

A hearing is set for April. A DNR official said the department could not comment on the appeal.

Thompson said that even though state officials say the mine is not likely to contaminate groundwater, environmentalists fear that potential contaminants would flow from the creek and harm plant life and animals in the area, as well as a groundwater aquifer.

The organizations challenging the permit also said the pollutants could flow from the creek and contaminate nearby Lake Ocie, Lake Wanda Lee and Lake Ski as well as several parks and conservation areas.

“Anytime you're changing the chemical balance of a water system, it's going to have effects on wildlife,” Thompson said. “It's going to have effects on water quality, and this is an area where people do recreate, people use these water systems.”

DNR officials said in August that Hawn State Park, Pickle Springs Natural Area and Horton Farms are in a different watershed system than the proposed mine and wouldn’t be affected by overflow.

The challenge comes weeks after the Missouri Mining Commission revoked NexGen Silica’s mining permit after the administrative hearing commission said the application didn’t include a full list of property owners with a vested interest. Administrative hearing commissioners also said NexGen didn’t have a legal right to mine the land.

The proposed 249-acre mine would sit near Hawn State Park and Highway 32. Last summer, the Ste. Genevieve Health Department passed a health ordinance that required the silica mine to operate at least a half-mile away from water sources and residents. But Thompson worries the ordinance may not survive legal challenges.

“In case the health ordinance is struck down, we want to make sure that we're fighting in every area that we can to get this mine not to come in,” Thompson said. ”We cannot rely on the courts to uphold that health ordinance at this point because if the health ordinance falls and the mining permit and the water permit go through, then NexGen could proceed with their mine imminently.”

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

Chad Davis is a 2016 graduate of Truman State University where he studied Public Communication and English. At Truman State, Chad served as the executive producer of the on-campus news station, TMN Television. In 2017, Chad joined the St. Louis Public Radio team as the fourth Race and Culture Diversity Fellow. Chad is a native of St. Louis and is a huge hip- hop, r&b, and pop music fan. He also enjoys graphic design, pop culture, film, and comedy.
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