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PAC: Extend moratorium

The crowd at Monday night's Goodhue County Planning Advisory Commission meeting went back and forth between irritated whispers and loud clapping depending on the opinions of the PAC members during their discussion about silica sand, but loud clapping won out in the end.

The commission voted 7-1 to recommend a yearlong extension to the mining moratorium that's already in place in the county. Tom Drazkowski was the lone "no" vote.

Following two hours of debate -- and several hours of public comment on the matter at a previous meeting -- the PAC determined that the report compiled by the county's Mining Study Committee should be acknowledged and the suggested changes the committee made to the zoning ordinance should be adopted.

"It may very well be a stronger piece of work than we have now," PAC member Tom Webster said prior to the vote, adding that he would favor a moratorium extension as well. "I think we could be in a strong position for a 12-month period of time."

Others on the commission agreed, but decided if they were going to recommend a moratorium extension, they would need to develop ideas for what should be studied throughout the moratorium.

Webster suggested that the study committee look into whether there's interest in a statewide moratorium on silica sand mining -- or potential for stopping such mining altogether.

"I would like the panel to take a real honest look at banning silica sand mining in Goodhue County," he said.

Other commission members said what they'd like to see examined by the Mining Study Committee. Their ideas focused on controlling setbacks, hours of operation and the potential for growth within silica sand mines.

"If we can't ban it, at least limit the quantity that can be taken out ... in a particular period of time," Rich Bauer said.

The suggestions accumulated to about 10 different recommendations, but some citizens said that not everything was included.

"I think there are more items to be added to the list," Frontenac resident Jody McIlrath said, mentioning water quality in particular.

After developing their suggestions for things to be studied, the PAC struggled with how much time would be needed for the studies to be done.

Ultimately, county Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel decided it would be easier to extend for a year and need less time than extend for six months and need more time.

"I guess I would err on the side of caution," he said, proposing one year. "And if we can get done earlier that'd be great."

A majority of the commission agreed and voted for the yearlong extension, eliciting applause from the dozens of citizens in attendance.

Despite applauding, however, some people weren't satisfied with the decision.

"I was hoping for a ban, but we knew that wouldn't happen," Amy Nelson said. She also said she would have been more upset if the moratorium extension recommendation was for only six months rather than a year.

Nelson and McIlrath both showed concern about the group that is likely to study silica sand issues for the coming year if the County Board adopts the PAC's recommendation to extend the moratorium. They each said they felt seven of the county's nine Mining Study Committee members favor mining, resulting in unfair studies for the past year.

"We hope to see a changeover of people on the Mining Study Committee," McIlrath said, adding that she would be willing to be on the committee. Nelson also said she'd be open to the job.

Plans for the committee won't be known until after the County Board meeting Aug. 16, when commissioners will consider the PAC's recommendations. If the board votes not to extend the moratorium, a study committee won't be necessary at all. If the board approves an extension, details of the study committee would be up in the air, Planning Director Mike Wozniak said.

"We'll first check to make sure that the Mining Study Committee members want to continue to serve, assuming the board gives us direction that they want to stay with that body," he explained.

Wozniak said he expects that staff would probably get the study committee members back together in late September to find out whether they're up for a longer commitment.

"In the meantime, we're going to be starting to do some research on the issues that were flagged ... so that we'll have some material to discuss with them," he said.