Jeff Lepper of Lanesboro joined a group of around a dozen protesting frac sand mining in Fillmore County. They walked outside the courthouse in downtown Preston before the Fillmore County Sand Committee meeting held Monday, Aug. 27.
Jeff Lepper of Lanesboro joined a group of around a dozen protesting frac sand mining in Fillmore County. They walked outside the courthouse in downtown Preston before the Fillmore County Sand Committee meeting held Monday, Aug. 27.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Another article in this issue looks at those present at the meeting who spoke in favor of mining. A future article will look at the discussion held here on ordinance revisions.

It appears increasing concerns about frac sand issues in Fillmore County, as well as the required steps to be taken in the process of setting up new ordinances, will see the moratorium on frac sand mining last through its full year.

It was put in place in February and will end, or be extended, in February of 2013. However, initial hopes of the Fillmore County Sand Committee were that the moratorium might end early if its members and the public felt concerns had been addressed.

County Commissioner Duane Bakke, who's also a member of the sand committee, answered, saying he hopes they'll have something close by the anniversary in February. He said the committee still needs to address current concerns, finish the ordinances, take them back to the Fillmore Planning Commission, where a public hearing is then required, and then present them to the county board for final approval.

That is a loose timeframe of around six months. Issues that continue to come up are economic impact, truck traffic, silica sand dust and related illness, the amount of water used and possible contamination of groundwater, the use of flocculants, and the density and/or clustering of mines.

A few months ago the committee - tasked with looking into frac sand mining and updating or creating new ordinances to deal with the booming industry eyeing Fillmore County - was sailing right along.

At earlier public meetings with few in the audience, things moved quickly as issues were discussed and relevant speakers invited to share information. Committee members had discussed a possibility of ending the one-year moratorium early. September had been mentioned.

However, it now seems for every step forward, the committee takes two steps back. County residents who've recently become involved - many from the Lanesboro area - have come to the meetings with more questions and concerns on issues they'd like to see addressed during the moratorium's study time.

The most recent regularly scheduled three-hour meeting, running from 9 a.m. until noon on Monday, Aug. 27, included a question near the end asking about the moratorium timeline and if the committee was looking to end it early.

Around a dozen people protested outside the courthouse before the meeting began Monday.

Economic impact

One of the agenda items at the last meeting was "economic impact." Zoning administrator Chris Graves said he'd talked to other zoning administrators and there "is not a lot out there." Bill Swanson of Lanesboro, in the audience, suggested interviewing business owners to see how they'd feel about trucks going through a town and possible loss of business.

Julie Kiehne, executive director of the Lanesboro Area Chamber of Commerce, said $1.3 million in sales taxes were generated, based on an $18.7 million tourism industry.

Donna Buckbee of Houston County said she could provide similar information on a scenic highway designation from the "lakes district," where the state Department of Revenue had done a study in 2008. She noted the surveyed visitors said they came "because of the beauty of the place," then added, "They wouldn't come if it was ugly."

Kelly Standish from Houston County said she could provide a study done by Steven Deller of the University of Wisconsin Extension on the economics of sand mining. The studies were not just about short-term gains and losses, but also contained long-term effects.

Commissioner Bakke said Fillmore County wants to regulate frac mines as Trempealeau County has done, with smaller mines, and not let it get big as it has in Chippewa County. They are both in Wisconsin, which has seen great development of frac mines.

Brad Erickson of Rushford - a Planning Commission member in the audience - suggested a survey be done in Rushford on economic impact, since it's likely seeing some truck traffic now. He named some businesses to visit. Buckbee added that any survey should also check with the nursing home, school, city library and senior living complex, all of them close to the highway in Rushford.

Roads

David Tacke of Lanesboro asked how a Scenic Byway plays into the siting of mines. Highway 16 is a Scenic Byway.

Bakke replied that could be taken up by zoning in looking at individual site decisions. He compared it to the placement of hog confinement operations, saying many are turned down due to problems with their locations. But people don't know that because it happens before the permit application is ever brought to the Planning Commission.

Bob Johnson of Harmony felt large numbers of trucks from the mines could keep people away from this area and that would be detrimental to tourism.

Bakke said ordinances being set up would put a control on haul routes that originate within the county. They would need to be approved as part of any permit.

Water

Harvey Benson of Harmony said his mother told him to leave the world as good or better than you found it. He felt the next fight (in the world) would be over water resources, noting that frac sand mines draw millions of gallons out of the aquifer. "Do we know the value?" he asked.

Roy House of Pilot Mound Township added that fresh water is one of the most valuable commodities. "I recommend we be as careful as possible."

Health issues

Pat Gemlo of Lanesboro said a "hidden economic element, probably not seen for years" could be all the health issues.

Renee Bergstrom of Lanesboro, who has a doctorate in education, said she worked as a pulmonary function technologist for seven years. With that background of testing lungs, she had concerns over silicosis from sand dust and its costs on lives.

Size and density

Bill Sullivan of Pilot Mound Township said people have been concerned about the size of mines.

Paul LeDuc of Pilot Mound Township also wondered about density.

Bakke said he thought density could be controlled by the number of acres open at one time.

However, he also queried, "If Pilot Mound is good, why do I want to limit that area and force (mining companies) to explore elsewhere?"

Frank Wright of Lanesboro also noted a conference on frac sand mining resources in Minnesota and Wisconsin is being held Oct 1-3, at the Earle Brown Conference Center, Brooklyn Park. He planned to attend and noted more information was available at /www.d.umn.edu/prc/workshops/SSworkshop.html

The next sand committee meeting was set for Tuesday, Sept. 18, from 9 a.m. until noon, at the board meeting room in the Fillmore County Courthouse, Preston. The public is welcome to attend.