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Citizens, county grow consensus on frac-sand rules

A public hearing for a frac-sand mining overlay district proposed by citizens' group Save-the-Bluffs was postponed at a Goodhue County Planning Advisory Commission Monday night.

Instead, the group will work with the county to review four alternative amendments to its mining ordinance relating to silica sand extraction.

The changes would increase mining setbacks in residential zones to one mile, ban mines and processing facilities within a mile of the ordinary high water line of the Mississippi River, enhance language around enforcement and restrict the use of flocculants and coagulants in the mining process.

Save-the-Bluffs members met with Goodhue County Commissioners Jim Bryant and Dan Rechtzigel to hash out the proposals Aug. 13, Chairwoman Jody McIlrath said.

"We think this is a positive move," she said. "The only way we're going to resolve these issues is by finding common ground."

"There's been a good reaction from the public and planning committee," Rechtzigel said, adding that he likes the four proposals over the mining overlay district because of the decreased complexity.

"An overlay district is hard to do scientifically," he said. The increased setbacks would be more concise.

But several details will have to be worked out, such as defining which kind of residences will pertain the one-mile setback.

Rechtzigel suggested using developments the size of hamlets or neighborhoods instead of single houses when determining setbacks.

McIlrath said the one-mile setback from the Mississippi River would help protect area tourism, while restricting flocculants and coagulants would protect water quality — two of the primary concerns brought up by citizens in previous discussions of silica mining in the county.

The setback would match a similar overlay district in Pepin County restricting mining operations along Lake Pepin, McIlrath said.

"It's very positive," Rechtzigel said. "We'll be able to have good protections in place, but still allow townships the opportunity to pursue (silica) mining if they wish."

The PAC voted unanimously to send the four items to the county's Mining Study Committee for review at a meeting Sept. 4.

The county's extended mining moratorium expires March 5, 2014.

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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