The Fillmore County Planning Commission voted during its meeting Thursday, Nov. 15, to recommend enacting a pair of new mining ordinances. Addressing both quarrying for construction minerals and industrial minerals and metals, the regulations are a direct response to pressures for frac sand development.

An overflow crowd packed the commissioners' room, with several citizens watching the proceedings via video camera in an upstairs seating area.

Thursday's meeting included the last public hearings required before the county board considers the ordinances during a regular meeting Tuesday, Nov. 27. On that date, public comment may be allowed but the board will not be required to hold additional sessions before enacting the regulations.

Ordinance 721 will continue to cover construction mining, while 736 is aimed squarely at industrial (including frac sand) mines. Conditional use permits will still be required for both, but the governing rules for those permits will come from separate ordinances.

Some key provisions in the construction mine ordinance include reclamation plans, geologic surveys, setbacks, blasting standards, seismograph reports, inspections, fees, road use, covered loads, and surety bonds.

The industrial mine ordinance includes all of the above and more. Chemicals and toxic substances are not allowed for drilling. Tunneling is not allowed. Washing of materials is not allowed, and the application of "any chemicals or flocculants to excavated or mined industrial minerals or metals" is prohibited. Also, any materials brought back to the site cannot have been processed with chemicals or flocculants.

Excavations are limited to 50 acres, with 1,000-foot setbacks from dwellings. There is a 50-foot setback from the surveyed boundary of any mining site. The number of sites in operation in the county was originally specified at eight, but later altered. Before any additional sites are opened, one of those must be "closed, reclaimed, and verified by the Fillmore County zoning administrator." Excavations must stop 10 feet above the water table. The mine operator "will not cause a significant reduction in surface water within two miles of the mining site," another section states.

Allowed hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. through 8 p.m. CDT, and 7 am through 5 pm CST. Saturday hours are 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. No Sunday hours are permitted. Federally observed holidays are also prohibited times to operate. The conditional use process may further curtail hours of operation. Road maintenance agreements are also required. Loads and weights are required to be reported to Fillmore County's zoning and planning office. Fees will be charged for wear and tear to county roadways.

Ordinance 721 brought few comments, and was quickly approved. But the industrial ordinance brought nearly a score of persons to the microphone and discussions went on for well over an hour. Remarkably, no members of the public asked for fewer restrictions on frac sand mining than the sample statute proposed. Opinions ranged from support for a strict ordinance with plenty of "teeth," to an outright ban on the frac sand industry.

"I would like to preserve this landscape as agricultural, not industrial," Tom Barnes of Pilot Mound Township said. "One should not reap the benefits at the expense of other people."

Barnes said the county should consider adding a "property value guarantee," which would make mine operators liable for losses in values within two miles of an industrial mine. "Can a county guarantee property values?" Chairman Gary Ruskell asked. "I'd like to do more research on that."

Lanesboro resident Dale Forster joined several citizens who said that the total number of mines should be five, not eight. "The purpose of ordinance 736 is to protect the land, water, and existing rural economy, and to monitor and control industrial mining..." he said. "In Fillmore County, we don't want to be overwhelmed by the sand mining that's taken over so many areas of Wisconsin. It's still a big unknown whether our county can manage all of these big scale mines."

Fellow Lanesboro citizen Robert Hatch joined others who expressed reservations over possible environmental problems such as groundwater pollution. Urging a ban on frac sand mines, he said, "We think this technology should not be supported in any form... Some of us hold values that transcend money."

George Spangler of the National Trout Center in Preston cited the value of tourism, which approximately half of the other speakers also mentioned. In the four-state "driftless area" including southern Minnesota, $1.1 billion worth of tourism per year is supported by trout streams, he claimed.

Spangler said that increased water temperatures and impaired flows from springs are some of the risks that need to be evaluated for all conditional use permits. He added that no washing of sand should be permitted now or in the future (which often requires high-cap wells), and that no chemicals from mining operations should be allowed to enter designated trout waters.

Another idea that was mentioned repeatedly was to limit active mines to two per township. Commissioners discussed that option, but eventually decided that townships should decide if they want to impose that limitation.

Bonnie Haugen said she farms near Canton. "More space between mines sounds like a good idea," she said. "But one saying that I've reminded people of is that 'farming is everybody's bread and butter' and water... I'm concerned about the water. I'm not a geologist, but I'm also wondering if they don't need more than 10 feet as far as staying above the water table... With the karst geology that we have, we may need to be extra careful about that."

Resident Rita LeDue concurred. "We need water but we also need food," she said. "I think tillable land needs to be conserved... We're just at the beginning of the mining operations now. Things will ramp up, and from what I've read there may be very intensive mining. I know some people say 'that'll never happen,' but you can't be too sure that it won't."

Citing studies that indicate that frac sand mines can still be profitable even if 50 to 80 feet of overburden needs to be removed, LeDue said, "If we're going to be removing 50 feet of overburden on down the road, we're going to end up with a pit, only 10 feet above the water table."

"I do feel that water is a very precious commodity, and we do owe something to future generations... In 2007, Fillmore County was losing over 500 tillable acres every single year to development. In view of the world's food situation, I think we need to start looking at what the food resources of the nation and the world is in relation to demand... If you do decide to do more work on this ordinance, you may want to put some restrictions on not converting good productive farmland with (at least) a 65 CER rating to mining."

Commissioner Jim Keune made a motion to forward the proposal, but limit active mines to five, then further limit those to two per township. Applause greeting his words, but the motion died for lack of a second.

Commissioner Duane Bakke then moved to recommend approval but limit the county's overall total to five, while leaving the question of how many mines per township to township officials. Seconded by Commissioner Ann O'Conner, the motion passed by unanimous vote.

The board also recommended approval of an alteration to Section 402(3) of the county's zoning ordinance, allowing portable agricultural buildings on skids to be exempt from building permit requirements. An amendment to Section 404.01 was approved as well, which supported the above change and also exempted certain concrete pours and asphalt for non-agricultural uses, excluding foundations and footings.

Finally, a public hearing on a CUP request from Gary and Matt Hellickson of Carimona Township was approved. The Hellicksons sought a feedlot expansion permit to go from 250 to 720 animal units. Zoning Administrator Chris Graves said that the operation would not be adding any buildings, but would be housing more finish hogs instead of nursery pigs. The larger animals are rated at more animal units. After making sure that township officials had no problems with the change, commissioners quickly voted in favor of the permit.