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Commentary: Land (and air and water) doesn't belong to us

Last August the Goodhue County Board voted to continue the moratorium that was in place regarding to silica sand mining to March 2014. In the interim, much more is being discovered about the hazards relating to the air borne particles, which have been identified as being cancer causing and once in the lungs, not able to be removed, the very real threat to our surface waterways (lakes rivers and streams) and ground waters (aquifers) from which three quarters of Minnesotans secure their drinking water.

Silica sand mining demand is rather new to Minnesota, principally occurring in the past three years, and much of the questions and answers evolve around science. The state agencies and the Legislature have been slow in studying the many issues, principally, relating to water and cancerous particles, but more recently, in the past six months, have ordered scientific research and data collecting studies to enable them and the people of Minnesota to grasp the enormity of the problem and the best way to address solutions.

These are scientific problems and need scientific solutions. The science is developing but is not there yet. We simply cannot rush into the solution without the science.

A recent release by Minnesota Public Radio identifies a serious and increasing crisis, with wells going dry, throughout the state, and lakes and rivers receding noticeably. They identify it as unsustainable.

Two silica sand mines operate in the St. Peter area, using three and one half billion gallons of water from the aquifer each in one year’s time. Wisconsin has 110 operating silica sand mines along the Mississippi River Valley. The plans are for 50 in Goodhue County.


White Bear Lake has dropped 9 feet in recent years from the dwindling aquifers, not lack of rain water. Other affected communities are seeking to tap the Mississippi River for their usage.

A rural grade school in the New Richmond, Wis., area noticed a marked increase in lung disease. The state health department determined that it was caused by air borne silica sand particles from a nearby mine. Once lodged, they are there for the rest of your life.

There are many other related problems from mining, such as dynamiting, 24-hour mine lights, 700 to 800 large trucks a day to the collecting site for shipment, plus dust, noise, diminished property values around the mine.

Although the "lucky lottery winner" may get rich from the sale of his land, adjacent property values will greatly diminish.

I have been to every public hearing before the Goodhue County Mining Study Committee, Planning Advisory Commission and County Board during the past two years. I have witnessed over a dozen knowledgeable, highly informed, intelligent, professional and articulate witnesses, citizens of this county, who care deeply about the welfare of their families and fellow citizens and who love the land, bring facts, data, scientific information, beyond their personal opinion, testify at those hearings, all more informed than myself.

I have been astounded at the lack of curiosity and intellectual discovery, demonstrated by the groups, particularly the board, in response to the testimony. They asked few, if any, questions about the information brought to them, which causes me to believe that they lack the will, integrity, and courage to decide this very important issue.

I would remind the board that they were elected to do the normal decision making, such as that pertaining to roads, bridges, law enforcement, health, zoning, and other historically routine jobs. They were not elected by the public to decide ground changing, health changing, environmentally disastrous, ground and air poisoning, anti-business (the tourist industry along the lake is predicted to die), esthetically disastrous decision such as silica sand mining.

This would have been much better addressed with a public referendum. It is not too late.

I could see from the start that they were hooked on the money and power accruing to them with the decision.

The land does not belong to us. We are only the trustees and we hold it for the benefit of our children, grandchildren and their descendants.

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

This wrong. Terribly wrong. Tell them so.