Top 10 of 2011: Citizens dig for information during moratoriumNo. 1 of the top 10 stories of 2011.
By: Regan Carstensen, The Republican Eagle
Goodhue County is three months into its yearlong moratorium that prevents any silica sand mines from developing, and a nine-person committee has been using that time to study the effects a mine could have locally.
Most recently, the Goodhue County Board gave its approval for the mining committee to turn to professionals. A consultant will be able to compare and contrast existing mining operations with silica sand mines, provide ideas for the best type of land reclamation and catalog existing federal and state regulations.
“They can gather that and look at our ordinance and basically see what’s missing,” Goodhue County Land-use Management Director Lisa Hanni said.
The one-year moratorium was put in place after concerned citizens rallied earlier this year when they heard that oil company Windsor Permian spent $2.6 million on 155 acres near Hay Creek. Such a large land purchase raised suspicions with the public that the company may be interested in mining the land for silica sand, which can cause the respiratory disease silicosis.
“The changes are chronic. Any injury to your lungs will be there until you die,” Dr. Karen DeLuca of Fairview Red Wing Medical Center explained at an informational meeting in May. “The only treatment is preventing it, and that’s why we’re here now.”
Public health hasn’t been the only concern. Citizens have also worried about a mine ruining the area’s natural beauty and geography, water quality being affected and roads being destroyed by trucks hauling extracted sand. Officially known as Save the Bluffs, the citizen group held numerous meetings throughout 2011 to raise awareness of those issues and work toward getting a moratorium in place.
Save the Bluffs members went as far as to present information to the Red Wing City Council — which technically has no jurisdiction on whether a sand mine is permitted in rural Goodhue County — in order to shed as much light on the issue as possible.
“It’s all on a county level, but these people are part of the county,” DeLuca explained of the City Council. “This is our chance to let Windsor Permian and other large oil companies know we want to preserve our communities.”
Gathering support from as many people as possible proved to be successful as Goodhue County commissioners unanimously approved the citizens’ request for a moratorium in September.
Since then, those appointed to the county’s mining committee have been doing research and meeting on a monthly basis.
Still, some residents are unsatisfied.
“They’re moving at a snail’s pace,” Frontenac resident Jody McIlrath said of the committee.
Earlier this month, residents of Hay Creek, Florence and Wacouta townships came together and discussed how they could gain some control over how a possible mine in the area would be run. Rather than leaving things in the hands of Goodhue County, township residents discussed whether they could enforce their own zoning ordinances at a licensing level.
Area township planning commission members said they will try to organize a meeting before the end of January 2012 to give additional interested townships an opportunity to join with them and combine efforts.
The concerned citizens want to be completely prepared before the first application for a silica sand mine is submitted in Goodhue County, because they expect it will be followed by many more.
“It is a gold rush, and if you think it isn’t, you’ve kind of got your head in the sand,” Jim McIlrath said.
Oil company Windsor Permian LLC, part of the Oklahoma-based Windsor Energy, purchases about 155 acres of land near Hay Creek in Goodhue County for $2.6 million.
Area residents worry about the possibility of a silica sand mine operation in the county because of Windsor Permian’s large land purchase.
April 18, 2011
Concerned citizens organize an informational meeting to learn what they can do about preventing silica sand from being mined in the county.
May 24, 2011
A second “Stop the Silica Sand Mine” meeting is sponsored by citizens. This gives the public a chance to hear testimonials from people living in different Wisconsin towns that already have silica sand operations.
Citizens are gathering signatures for a moratorium request they intend to present to the Goodhue County Board.
June 20, 2011
The Goodhue County Planning Advisory Commission looks at whether to recommend the citizens’ moratorium to the Goodhue County Board. Hours of public comment are heard, so the commission tables its decision to its next meeting.
July 11, 2011
Looking for extra support, concerned citizens share their moratorium idea with the Red Wing City Council.
The council decides it will turn to its planning commission for input.
July 18, 2011
The Goodhue County Planning Advisory Commission decides it will recommend that the County Board deny the moratorium that would prevent sand mines from being established in the county for the next year.
Aug. 16, 2011
The Red Wing Advisory Planning and Sustainability commissions decide to recommend that the Red Wing City Council support the one-year moratorium.
Aug. 22, 2011
The Red Wing City Council votes to support citizen group “Save the Bluffs” in its request for a moratorium.
Sept. 6, 2011
The Goodhue County Board approves the moratorium that prevents sand mines from being developed in the county for at least a year.
Goodhue County staff starts to organize a steering committee that will spend time studying issues of concern surrounding mines.
Oct. 4, 2011
Five concerned citizens, two Goodhue County Planning Advisory Commission members and two mining experts are chosen to make up the mining committee that will research the effects of silica sand mines for the next year.
Dec. 7, 2011
Residents of Wacouta, Florence and Hay Creek townships discuss at a Hay Creek Town Board meeting how they can take studying sand mines into their own hands, rather than leave everything up to the county’s mining committee.