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Vote on mining ordinance nears

After nearly 18 months of discussion, public meetings and revisions, the Board of Commissioners is set to vote on a revised ordinance and comprehensive plan that could affect the future of the frac-sand industry in Goodhue County.

The board will vote on the amended documents after a public hearing 1 p.m. Tuesday in room 301 of the Government Center.

The proposed ordinance includes a provision limiting mines to no more than 40 acres of exposed ground, while allowing the county to add conditions requiring new mines to take steps to mitigate silica dust pollution.

Additionally, a last-minute amendment would require permit applications to include a map showing all public schools, churches, campgrounds, nursing homes and residential properties within a one-mile radius of a proposed mine.

"This ordinance will put us in a solid position to do full scrutiny of any mining application that wants to come through," said County Board Chair Dan Rechtzigel, who also serves on the county's Planning and Advisory Commission.

"There are enough checks and balances in it that if there's any project we feel nervous or unsettled about, we will have the ability to deny it," Rechtzigel said.

Save the Bluffs, a citizens group opposing frac-sand mining in eastern Goodhue County, criticized the ordinance proposal on its website for using vague language and not going far enough to limit new mines.

"There are good parts to it, but there are still things that need shoring up," Save the Bluffs chairwoman Jody McIlrath said. For instance, she said the proposal does not go into enough detail regarding the chemicals used in frac sand mining.

McIlrath said she would like to see the mining moratorium stay in place until the county's Mining Study Committee could properly complete its report, including a cost-benefit analysis of the impact of frac-sand mining on local tourism.

Members of Save the Bluffs will attend Tuesday's public hearing to give testimony, she added.

"(The ordinance is) better than nothing," said Jim Tittle, a Goodhue County landowner and director of the frac sand mining documentary "The Price of Sand."

Tittle said one of his biggest complaints is that the ordinance fails to make a distinction between rules for frac sand mines and less impactful aggregate mines for gravel or limestone.

"That's a crucial mistake," Tittle said, "they're not the same thing."

The board approved a one-year ban on new mining permits last August, while directing the Mining Study Committee to research a list of 18 of economic, health and environmental concerns surrounding frac-sand mining.

The committee's research resulted in the creation of a revised zoning ordinance and comprehensive plan, which the Planning and Advisory Commission approved unanimously at a meeting May 20.

All that remains is final approval from County Board for the draft amendments to go into effect.

Alternatively, the board could vote to extend the moratorium for another 12 months to continue studying mining issues -- but only after another public hearing.

If the moratorium is allowed to expire automatically, organizations can begin applying for mining permits in Goodhue County as early as Sept. 6.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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