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Mining panel: Dig deep with permit data

Sand is quickly filling the bottom of the hour glass as time is running out on Goodhue County's mining moratorium.

Well aware of the upcoming deadline, the county's Mining Study Committee made sure to wrap up its studies this month. With as much information gathered as possible, the group presented both the Planning Advisory Commission and the Goodhue County Board with its summary at a special meeting Wednesday night.

"Because there's so much information on this we thought we'd have our background information meeting tonight," Land-use Management Director Lisa Hanni said.

The matter will come before the PAC at its meeting Monday, but having the study group present its data in advance will help shorten the meeting next week.

The MSC was created in fall 2011 and held its first meeting in October.

"Since then this committee has worked extremely hard," Hanni said. "This has been a very big project all around."

Throughout the past year, citizens have had mixed feelings about the work being done. Some have accused the committee of being lopsided and being in favor of bringing more mines to the area.

Amidst all of the studying, researching, collaborating and writing, Hanni made it clear that there are two things the MSC didn't do: It did not make the zoning ordinance less stringent and it didn't make it easier for mining to come into the area.

While developing its suggestions for the PAC and County Board, she said, the group instead collected as much information as possible with an unbiased point of view.

The MSC focused on encompassing all types of mining rather than only silica sand. By the end of its nine-month study, it developed wording changes to the county's zoning ordinance that could potentially be implemented.

Ultimately, everything the MSC recommended will result in the county collecting a lot of details before a mining project is even improved.

"We're asking a lot more information up front," Hanni said. "That way we can figure out right away if something somebody's proposing is a good idea or if it's not a good idea."

Those details include everything from how dust will be controlled on site to how the area will be reclaimed when mining is completed.

In addition to requiring information with every application, the MSC also suggested the county change its zoning ordinance to say that a mine may have to monitor water quality, air quality or both.

Each proposal might also be subjected to a Mining Technical Evaluation Panel depending on its size or what is being mined.

Following the MSC's report, consultants shared some of their suggestions with the county.

Sherri Buss, an architect and city planner for Scandia, Minn., pointed out that Goodhue County has the option of issuing an interim-use permit rather than a conditional-use permit for a mine. Interim-use permits have end points.

Buss also recommended that the county annually review each new mine that is approved.

"If a mine is creating problems ... you can get at that in the annual review process," Buss said.

After hearing everything presented, Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel asked for extra reassurance regarding possible mines coming to Goodhue County.

"What will keep us from being Wisconsin?" he asked, referring to the fact that the neighboring state is home to many silica sand mines.

Buss said a big part of the difference between Goodhue County and other areas is the amount of information that would be required of a mining company upon applying for a permit.

"I think the level of specifics that's proposed here is higher than it used to be and higher than it is in a lot of other places," she said.

Now that background information has been presented, the PAC will hold a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the Justice Center for people to comment in a public hearing.