Residents ask Missouri legislators to halt silica mine, don’t want ‘our futures ruined’

NexGen proposes to mine silica sand in Ste. Genevieve County near Hawn State Park

By: - February 13, 2023 4:09 pm

Signs lining Highway 32 protest a proposed silica mine that would span 249 acres in Ste. Genevieve County, Missouri (Niara Savage/ Missouri Independent).

Ste. Genevieve County residents who fear a proposed silica sand mine will drain their drinking water wells and light up the night sky with its 24-hour schedule asked a Missouri House committee on Monday to halt the project. 

“We (do) not deserve to have our futures ruined because a handful of people want to make a lot of money,” said Chris Eckenfels, a farmer from Ste. Genevieve County. 

Ste. Genevieve County, which lies south of St. Louis on the Mississippi River, has been a mining community for more than 100 years. But news of a silica sand mine, which would be operated by NexGen, alarmed community members, who mobilized in opposition and formed an organization to oppose it called Operation Sand.

Critics of the mine packed a committee room at the Missouri Capitol Monday. 

They’ve been vocal opponents for months as NexGen seeks approval and permits from regulators. One of the group’s organizers, Jillian Ditch Anslow, said residents are scared of this mine being so close.

“And not because we’re scared of the unknown,” said Ditch Anslow, a high school biology teacher, “but because we’re scared of what we’ve come to know. We’re scared of what we’ve learned as this process has gone on.” 

Now, the Ste. Genevieve community is looking for a legislative solution. They asked members of the Missouri House Rural Community Development Committee to support a bill that would, in effect, prohibit the NexGen mine

The original version of the bill would allow county governments to create public health and safety rules for mining in Lamotte Sandstone formations. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rick Francis, a Republican who represents Perry and Ste. Genevieve counties, would also require mines to be set back from schools, churches, parks, subdivisions and homes. 

But there will likely be a substitute version when the committee votes on the legislation. That version prohibits silica sand mining within 2.5 miles of state parks and conservation areas in counties with between 17,600 and 19,000 residents with county seats that have between 4,000 and 5,000 residents. 

Only Ste. Genevieve and Pike counties fit that description. 

Francis said the goal of his bill is not to affect other mining operations. 

“This bill language will prohibit the mining of silica sand in a small western portion of Ste. Genevieve County with close proximity to Hawn State Park and other conservation areas,” he said. 

Francis said his constituents don’t want the sand plant. 

“They have concerns about their well water, about the silica dust that would be in the air, about blasting, lights, noise, etc.,” he said. “I could go on and on.” 

Opponents of the bill argued Monday that it unfairly targeted the company. 

“We are concerned about the precedent this bill sets by circumventing the existing process that businesses are supposed to go through,” said Roger Faulkner, one of the partners in NexGen. 

Ray McCarty, president of Associated Industries of Missouri, said the bill was a “special law” that unconstitutionally targets the mine. 

“We believe that this is kind of the camel’s nose into the tent,” McCarty said.

NexGen applied last year for a land reclamation permit, which it received without any environmental review by the state. But following an appeal, the permit was revoked. 

Operation Sand is also fighting NexGen’s water permit along with Friends of Hawn and the Sierra Club.

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Allison Kite
Allison Kite

Allison Kite is a data reporter for The Missouri Independent and Kansas Reflector, with a focus on energy, the environment and agriculture. A graduate of the University of Kansas, she previously covered City Hall for The Kansas City Star, as well as state government in both Topeka and Jefferson City.