Frac sand mining setbacks spark debate
Tuesday, May 14, 2013 6:54 AM
Houston County commissioners surveyed the ever-changing frac sand mining landscape during their May 7 meeting, noting that proposals from state legislators that may have local impacts.
Chairman Justin Zmyewski said he had contacted land-use attorney Jay Squires on how the board will now proceed as they draw up new mining regulations for the county.
"He just mentioned that there's some legislation that's going through right now, and he will be in touch with the board."
One proposed change would allow the county to extend their moratorium on new frac sand mines until 2015, Zmyewski reported.
Another proposal would require a one-mile setback between frac sand mines and trout streams, as well as limiting mining within 25 feet of the water table.
Commissioner Judy Storlie objected to a report in the Winona Daily News that said that State Senator Jeremy Miller had contacted Houston County board members about the one-mile setback requirement.
Of the five members, only Zmyewski said he'd spoken with Miller.
The senator purportedly said that all of the commissioners that he had talked to "expressed concerns" over the mile setback in Senator Schmit's bill, but Miller did not claim to have talked to every commissioner. Miller said he will oppose the measure.
Flourishing a map of MnDNR designated trout streams; Storlie said the mile setback would be a good idea in Houston County.
"I talked to fish people, soil people, and I really think that to not keep a mile back is going to affect our future, because whatever is done, we can't undo," she stated.
"We need to support the mile setback from a trout stream," Commissioner Teresa Walter stated.
"To set the record straight, Jeremy called me last week," Zmyewski said. "I said, 'I know from talking with other commissioners that we support Schmit's bill,' and I said, 'Houston County is taking a very responsible, conservative approach to the issues.'
"He said, 'What do you think about the mile setback?' I said, 'I would like to see some research done.' I said as a fellow trout fisherman, 'I would love to see the setbacks there, because I enjoy that activity, and I want to see it stay.'"
Miller called later, stating that counties should have the local option to enact whatever setback standards they want, Zmyewski added.
He reportedly told the senator that the county is looking for some firm numbers from the state on the issue.
"We don't want an arbitrary number. One county might say a mile, another could say five feet; we're looking for a research-based number. What does the DNR say it should be?
"I said we're looking for some direction here. We want to take a conservative, safe approach. We don't want to just leave it up in the air."
Storlie added that Squires' bill for work performed on the ordinances so far needs be reviewed, and that county staff should do as many of those tasks as possible.
Earlier in the meeting under the Open Forum portion, three citizens spoke about frac sand mining.
Former Frac Sand Study Committee member Kelley Stanage thanked the board for taking the lead on new ordinances given the "gridlock" that the former group had run into.
Handing out copies of the preamble of the Houston County Land Use Ordinance, Stanage reminded commissioners of the guiding principles laid out in that document, including promoting and protecting the general welfare of citizens, preserving agricultural land and conserving "the scenic beauty of the county."
Steve Hartwick of Money Creek Township reminded the board that they are free to enact more stringent controls than the state will require.
He urged commissioners to utilize "scientific expertise" in drafting the ordinances.
"If you choose to have sand jobs displacing tourism and recreation jobs, you should make sure that those jobs are being done right," Hartwick added.
"You have an obligation to safeguard us from people who have dollar bills in their eyes and are dust doubters and diesel fume deniers."
Mike Fields of Winnebago Township suggested a more radical approach. He said that a retired attorney he spoke to said that the county could essentially ban industrial scale mining through the permitting process.
"He said all you need to do is establish a factually-based difference between frac sand mines and other mines."
"Consider this: there are no strip bars in Caledonia because they have been banned. Citizens (through their elected officials) have decided that strip bars are different from other bars and are inconsistent with community standards and with what kind of city Caledonia wants to be; even though some bar owner would make a big pile of money and create some jobs. Not all bars were banned, just a certain kind of bar. Apparently, this is completely legal and defensible."