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Emergency amendment made to moratorium

The Red Wing City Council decided Monday night the chance of silica sand loading and unloading operations popping up in the city warranted an emergency amendment to its sand mining moratorium.

The council voted unanimously to support adding loading, unloading, storing, warehousing, stockpiling and processing of silica/frac sand to the list of items prohibited during the moratorium.

"These things don't all occur at the mining site, although they've been part of our study process," Planning Director Brian Peterson said.

The amendment takes effect immediately. It only runs the remaining length of the moratorium, which ends in late October and cannot be extended.

"Five more months before it can be put on a barge is not much to ask for for the community ... to look and see if this is safe," Council member Dean Hove said.

The city started exploring the amendment when the Little River bulkhead operator raised the possibility of loading sand from Wisconsin mines onto barges at the bulkhead near the Xcel Energy steam plant.

That situation simply pointed out a hole in the moratorium, council members said.

"It's not something that has just come up because of the bulkhead," Council member Peggy Rehder said. The operations could take place in many areas of the city, she pointed out.

That was part of the reason members supported the emergency ordinance.

The city charter allows for an emergency ordinance when the council deems it is necessary for "the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, morals, safety or welfare."

"It's the council that really defines whether an emergency exists," city attorney Amy Mace said.

The typical process for an ordinance takes longer and includes two readings, publication and a 14-day waiting period before going into effect.

Council members wanted to ensure that no operations could begin before they had time to determine any needed regulations and put them in place.

"I want to make sure we can do this the right way and that everyone has to follow the same rules," Hove said.

Mayor Dennis Egan said that could have happened without the moratorium.

"I thought that some of this could have been done by implementing best practices from the get-go and resolving some of this up front," he said.

But given the concerns about this operation happening at other locations and the council's "strong showing" of support, he signed the ordinance. The mayor has one hour after the council approves an emergency ordinance to decide whether to veto or accept it.

There are two separate leases involving the bulkhead that address the issue differently. The agreement with Xcel would have to be amended or clarified to say whether these operations would be allowed in the area. But the lease between the bulkhead operator and Port Authority already would allow this, Port Board President Mike Grove said.

He pointed out there are no plans for sand storage at the bulkhead.

Grove raised concerns that the amendment could have unintended consequences. So the council added a definition of silica sand to ensure the moratorium would only govern that specific type.

"It wouldn't apply to what's in your sandbox or what's being dredged out of the Mississippi River," Peterson said.

The ordinance will give the city time to explore all the issues and address them properly, council members said.

"We have an awful lot of feelings and fears about this. ... What's troubling me is that we don't have a lot of facts," Council member Marilyn Meinke said. "In the end if we decide it's OK to load this stuff through the bulkhead, great. At least we'll have data that says it's safe. If we don't, we'll have data to support that decision."

Danielle Killey

Danielle Killey covers local government for the South Washington County Bulletin. She has worked as a reporter for other Forum Communications newspapers since 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a journalism degree.

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