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County narrowly approves mining ordinance changes

After a contentious 3-2 vote, the Goodhue County Board approved a list of amendments to the county's mining ordinance Tuesday afternoon. The board will consider making additional amendments and the possibility of extending the county's mining moratorium for another year before it expires Sept. 6.

The motion was forwarded by Commissioner Ted Seifert and seconded by Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel. Commissioners Ron Allen and Jim Bryant voted against it.

"I hope the public understands that we can't keep doing perpetual moratoriums," Rechtzigel said. "We have to pick something and go with it."

The mining ordinance amendments limit mines to no more than 40 acres of exposed ground and require a 1,000-foot setback from neighboring dwellings. They also require operators of existing aggregate mines within the county to reapply for permits if the product of a mine is switched to frac sand.

The amendments were the product of nearly a year of research, discussion and public hearings by the county's Mining Study Committee, which was tasked last August with studying mining impacts after County Board approved an extension to the moratorium.

The committee's proposed ordinance was approved unanimously by the Planning and Advisory Commission at a meeting last month.

"I think that we need to validate what our planning commission subcommittee has done over this period of time," Seifert said, adding that the board still could vote to extend the moratorium sometime this summer.

The vote came after a two-hour public hearing in which more than a dozen people voiced

overwhelming support for the county to extend the moratorium and further study the environmental, health and economic impacts of mining.

Chief among the concerns by the public were the potential health dangers of silica dust, such as silicosis and lung cancer, and the impact mining would have on the local tourism industry.

Bryant said he is not opposed to frac-sand mining in Goodhue County, but said points brought up during the public discussion -- such as banning just silica processing while allowing mining in certain areas -- warranted further review by the planning commission and mining committee.

Rechtzigel suggested Bryant and Allen attend the next mining committee meeting to share input, but no date has been set for it.

Save the Bluffs Chairwoman Jody McIlrath, said the group will focus on the results of the meeting and continue to push for an extension to the moratorium.

"We will follow up with this additional mining subcommittee meeting with the two commissioners and see where that goes," McIlrath said.

The board also voted unanimously to approve an updated comprehensive plan, which includes wording emphasizing Goodhue County as an agricultural community.

There will need to be another public hearing before the County Board could vote to extend the moratorium or make additional amendments to the mining ordinance.

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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