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Red Wing considers mining moratorium amendments

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The Red Wing City Council has been exploring its options after learning that silica sand could be transported out of Red Wing via barges on the Mississippi River, and council might have settled on a solution.

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The city is looking into amending its sand mine moratorium to include transportation operations.

Some nearby Wisconsin mines have been trucking their sand through Red Wing to Cannon Falls for railroad transportation, but use of the Little River bulkhead for barge transportation has recently become an interest.

Last fall, the city pressed pause on silica sand mining by approving a moratorium preventing the mining of sand within city limits for a full year. After recent discussions with the city's attorney, council members discovered there was nothing in their moratorium that pertained to the transportation of sand or plans for the Little River bulkhead.

"Our moratorium was written very specifically to cover resource extraction," Planning Director Brian Peterson said.

Still, that doesn't leave the council without options. The moratorium can be amended to include topics such as transferring, storing and processing sand.

"But only for five months," Council member Lisa Bayley said, explaining that any amendments will only last until the original moratorium is set to expire in mid-October.

The moratorium can only be extended under very specific circumstances, none of which currently apply to the city, attorney Jay Squires said.

The Little River bulkhead is owned by the Red Wing Port Authority, which has leased operations out to Landfill Services Inc. since 1999.

The contract with Landfill leaves the port without control.

However, with the possibility of 30,000 tons of sand being loaded at the bulkhead every month of the operating season, the port could stand to benefit. According to Port Board President Mike Grove, the port brings in 42 cents for every ton that crosses the bulkhead, up to 100,000 tons.

City staff members are in the process of devising a draft ordinance that would feature moratorium amendments that they will bring to the City Council's June 11 meeting. The change needs two readings. It does not require another public hearing, but council members generally agreed one could be held.

Council members also said during their Tuesday meeting they want to meet with the Port Authority before finalizing any changes.

"The port is looking for answers too," Council and port Board member Mike Schultz said. "I think we should be collaborating here at this point."

"We just want to really keep all the lines of communication open," Bayley said.

Although loading sand at the bulkhead could start at any time -- possibly before the council meets again -- council members are hopeful they will get a chance to gain some control and learn more about the situation before operations begin.

"I think our intent is very clear that we want to study this," Council member Peggy Rehder said. "From my standpoint, it would sort of be an act of bad faith to start with this while we're still studying it."

Mayor Dennis Egan said he wants to make sure dialogue continues. The Landfill Services could have just starting shipped sand, but notified the Port Authority.

"It's almost penalizing them for being upfront about their intentions of exploring this," he said of adding transportation to the moratorium right away.

"I don't see that at all as being adversarial, I just see it as trying to make sure we're all on the same page," Rehder said Tuesday.

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