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Editorial: Will county continue sand debate?

The state of Minnesota gave Goodhue County a gift. Commissioners can extend the mining moratorium a second year. Should Goodhue County accept?

First, some background.

Goodhue County Board adopted a one-year moratorium in September 2011 to allow staff and the newly created Mining Study Committee time to evaluate the county’s zoning ordinance. The push came from concerned citizens after word spread that an oil company had purchased considerable acreage in and around Hay Creek Township that winter and spring.

In September 2012, commissioners elected to extend the moratorium a year. That’s all Minnesota law allows for moratoriums.

This spring, the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill granting a second year extension for moratoriums that specifically address silica sand mining.

Demand has skyrocketed for silica sand because its special properties help exact oil and natural gas from the ground through a process called fracking. The Mississippi River Valley — especially the stretch between Goodhue and Winona counties on the Minnesota side and St. Croix and La Crosse counties on the Wisconsin side — has an abundance of silica or frac sand.

Last week, the County Board adopted on a 3-2 vote what people hope is a tougher ordinance. The board did not vote to end the moratorium early. That should reassure people that commissioners realize they aren’t done.

We hope that means they will continue a very necessary public discussion on whether extending the moratorium to September 2014 is in the community’s best interests.