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Letter: Prohibit sand mining or at least extend county's moratorium

To the Editor:

It's not often that a "new" industry threatens to change the character of a community in the way silica mining threatens to change Goodhue County.

Commissioners recognized this and enacted and extended a moratorium, formed the Mining Study Committee, hired consultants and considered the issue in meetings and hearings.

On June 18, commissioners will take up proposed amendments to the Comprehensive Plan and Article 14 (mineral extraction). This language is presented as from the MSC, but it appears it actually comes from Land-use Management.

In spite of all this work, the county has yet to come to grips with frac sand mining -- what it offers us, balanced against what it could do to our natural resources, economy, health and quality of life.

The MSC should have been a model of transparency and democratic process, but was not. Dominated by mining advocates, the committee has been controlled by staff and deliberations focused on details rather than the big picture.

The specific assignments given with the moratorium extension have not been carried out.

Did the committee review and approve each substantive section of the report and then the entire report? There's no record of a vote.

Did the committee review and vote on proposed amendment language and the mineral extraction zoning ordinance? There's no record of a vote.

The committee report is vague and insubstantial, lacking data and citations.

A few "big picture" points missing in Goodhue County's review:

First, there is plenty of frac sand, and the county's decisions will have no impact on the sand market, the practice of fracking or on the price of oil or gas. This is a local land-use decision that should be made on local considerations.

Second, some think any deal offering "jobs" should be taken up. However, unemployment in Goodhue County is generally lower than in other parts of Minnesota. There is no reason to sacrifice other long-term values for jobs.

Third, frac sand mining is fundamentally different in the nature and scale from existing sand and aggregate mining. Yet Land-use Management and the MSC propose regulating all "mineral extraction" similarly.

Finally, there is tension between property owner's land rights and economic opportunity and society's interest in the welfare and safety of the community. The county attorney's memorandum on regulation of mining argues for private interest, relying on old coal mining cases not applicable today in Minnesota. A balanced and objective discussion should include evaluation of Florence Township's restrictions.

Is there a regulatory framework in place to ensure that frac sand mining and processing could be carried out without harm? Because there is not, frac sand mining should not now be allowed.

I recommend commissioners reject the committee report and find that based, on information available, frac sand mining is not a permittable in Goodhue County.

If the commissioners are not prepared to make that decision, they should extend the moratorium -- as recently authorized by the state -- commission a report from someone qualified, and reconstitute a mining committee under independent leadership.

It is the county's responsibility to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public.

Alan Muller

Red Wing