New Albin residents concerned about sand mine possibility - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

New Albin residents concerned about sand mine possibility

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Some rolling hills in northeast Iowa contain a form of grainy gold -- called frac sand.  Such sand is becoming a hot commodity, since it's being widely used in a process called hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" to extract natural gas in other parts of the country.

In Allamakee County, a mining company is hoping to help meet the sand demand by setting up shop on a farm about five miles south of New Albin.  But the proposal is less than popular with its possible neighbors

Some 200 people packed the New Albin Community Center Sunday to learn about sand fracking, now that a mine could be coming to their small town.

Sue Weymiller would be able to see the mine from her front porch.  But like many in attendance, she feels left in the dark

"Actually I learned about it nine or ten days ago.  My brother called me and asked if I knew what was going on in the sand cove.  Up until then, I'd never even heard of sand frack mining.  Since then, I've learned more than I care to know," Weymiller said.

As others in New Albin have learned more about what sand fracking involves, many become more opposed to it.

"It's ugly.  It's a big eyesore and everything.  But it's more the health problems from the sand, the grains coming off sand grains blowing off trucks when they transport this through our communities, off of trains when it goes through our communities," said Ric Zarwell, New Albin resident.

David Mitchell owns the property in rural New Albin where the proposed sand fracking mine would be located.  He wasn't available to speak in person, but told KWWL on the phone he didn't even know the riches below his feet until an out-of-state company contacted him about the mining opportunity.  He thinks in the long run, it'll be a good thing and that concerns won't be warranted.

Mitchell would get paid per ton of sand pulled from his property.  Mine advocates insist such sand fracking operations bring jobs, while providing an important piece of the energy supply chain.  Those opposed say sand mines create few, if any, new jobs.  And they say the potential pitfalls for personal health, property value, local tourism and more far outweigh any perks.

"Our forests, our farm land, our rivers and streams, and trout streams, and all those resources, including the Mississippi River, that people come here for, we value.  It's a big part of our local economy, and so we want to protect that," said Zarwell.

Those gathering Sunday are just hoping that by educating themselves on sand fracking, they'll be able to get local officials to say "no" to pushing the mine plans forward.

"This is the neighbors against the invaders.  That's what this is.  And we want to slow this process down," Zarwell said.

A local petition is urging a two-year ban on any sand fracking mines in Allamakee County.  Opponents say if this mine gets the green light, dozens more mines could pop up, hoping to cash in on the grainy gold buried beneath the area's hills.

Those working to bring a sand mine to New Albin will hold a public meeting to advocate for the project.  It will be Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at the New Albin Community Center.

The Allamakee County Board of Adjustment will decide whether to move forward with the sand mine plans at its meeting October 24th.

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