HILLSBORO • Tucked among forested hills just north of Hillsboro, the Jefferson County farm owned by JoAnn Enloe and her siblings has been in the family since 1876.
“Our family is the second owner since the Louisiana Purchase,” Enloe says proudly.
She and her husband, Lee, live on a quiet wooded lot that was part of the original farmstead. For years, they’ve braced for new houses or maybe even a subdivision to sprout up around them, but never expected that an industrial sand mine could start business across the street.
But that — along with a new way of life for the Enloes and other nearby residents — is now a possibility, as Jefferson County officials evaluate a conditional use application that would allow a mining operation to occupy a 259-acre tract currently zoned for low-density residential use.
The area sits atop a layer of rock called the St. Peter Sandstone, a geologic formation whose quartz sand grains have been increasingly coveted in recent years for use in fracking — a market the proposed mine would serve, according to county officials.
For the Enloes and other nearby residents, concerns about the project — bounded by Tishomingo Road to the north and Highway 21 to the south — go far beyond having a possible nuisance or a jarring change of scenery land on their doorstep. They rattle off a list of health and environmental concerns associated with the proposal that worry them, starting with its potential impact on water.
“No. 1, the water — depleting the aquifer,” says Ruth Beardslee, a retired teacher who lives nearby, expressing concern about a strain on groundwater. “Mines use a great deal of water. Of course, we’re all on wells.
“No. 2, the blasting could damage our wells,” she adds.
Others also worry that possible blasting at the mine could damage their wells, septic systems, foundations or even some earthen dams in the vicinity — including at a small lake at the site of the proposed development.
“That’s a concern when you start rumbling the earth,” said Enloe. “When you start blasting and digging and disrupting, what’s going to happen?”
Misgivings also extend to the effect runoff from the site could have downstream, throughout the Sandy Creek watershed. Other fears arise from the sand mine as a potential source of dangerous airborne particulate matter. Inhaling fine particles of crystalline silica from materials like sand can increase risk of diseases such as silicosis and lung cancer, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The fate of the proposal is currently in the hands of the Jefferson County Planning and Zoning Commission, which will discuss the matter at a public hearing on June 14 and “will make some sort of decision that night,” according to Dennis Kehm Jr., the assistant director of the Department of County Services and Code Enforcement.
Kehm said that decision would be forwarded to the County Council, which will get a final say on the proposal. About a week before the June 14 hearing, he said the staff of the county Planning Division would produce a report evaluating the project’s application.
Midwest Proppant, an Arnold-based firm that specializes in producing sand used for fracking, is a primary company behind the application. Company representatives declined requests for comment until after the June hearing, and said they would “spell out the exact scope of work for the project” at the meeting.
Regardless of the outcome that awaits the proposed mine, activity in the fracking industry could keep appraising eyes on Missouri’s sand resources. Last year, data from the U.S. Geological Survey show that both consumption and production value of industrial sand and gravel increased by more than 30 percent, “owing primarily to increased activity in the oil and gas sector.” Trailing only Wisconsin, Texas and Illinois, Missouri ranked as the fourth-largest producer by state, and has seen mines in Jefferson County and other areas near the Mississippi River emerge as suppliers of “frac sand” in recent years.
Local residents said it has already been tough to keep pace with proceedings around the proposal. The matter was originally set to come up at the Planning and Zoning Commission’s May 10 meeting — just weeks after a written notice dated April 23 was sent to surrounding property owners. The hearing was eventually pushed back because some were not notified.
“It’s not a lot of time to fathom what’s going on and get your information and try to decide what your next step is going to be,” said Enloe. “There are lots of things to consider. ... There’s no industrial area within this close proximity.”
“There has been no environmental study that we can get results from,” said Rebecca Leonard, who owns property adjacent to the proposed mine. “We are hoping to request a lot of studies before anything can be done.”
Some worry about the ability of studies and regulations to keep up with pressure to develop mines in a way that minimizes their impact.
“Because of the fracking industry, a lot of sand mines are popping up,” said Enloe. “I think it’s more that we’re going to have to be reactive than proactive because I’m not sure how many laws or studies are available to indicate what’s going on — what’s really going on.”
She said she’s not opposed to people using their property according to their wishes — as long as others aren’t affected.
“When it negatively impacts someone else,” she says, “then that becomes a concern.”