18-month moratorium recommended on frac sand mining


18-month moratorium recommended on frac sand mining


Becky Walz


After listening to the public’s comments for nearly two hours on Tuesday, May 14, the Winneshiek County Planning and Zoning Commission voted to recommend an 18-month moratorium on the issuance of new permits for frac sand mining operations in Winneshiek County.

All nine of the county commission members favored a moratorium but were split on whether to recommend 12 or 24 months. The resulting compromise of the 18-month moratorium came at the suggestion of members Wendy Stevens and Leslie Cook.

Lyle Otte, spokesperson for the Winneshiek County Protectors, opened the public hearing with the presentation of over 1,350 signatures from the public asking for a 24-month moratorium.

Listening to the comments for and against the moratorium were nearly 200 individuals crammed into the third-floor courtroom.

“The public seems to be very informed on the issue, and we have talked with people and didn’t have to explain the issue or convince them to sign,” Otte said to the full courtroom.

Those in the courtroom heard many comments that involved the potential health threats caused by silica sand mining and the impact the sand trucks would have on the roadways.

Fillmore County (Minn.) attorney David Williams suggested the moratorium to allow for study and the drafting of appropriate ordinances.

The neighboring Minnesota county is one of five in that state to enact moratoria.

Williams added, “They saw what was going on in Wisconsin, and it scared them to death.”

Ultimately, Williams assisted Fillmore County in writing an ordinance on frac sand mining.

“This is not about trying to prohibit silica sand mining; it is to distinguish between aggregate mining and silica sand mining,” Williams concluded.

Employing over 100 individuals in Clayton County and impacting the local economy with a $10 million payroll, Pattison Sand representative Beth Reagan and owner Kyle Pattison offered information on its current operation in recycling water and the number of health-related issues caused by silica sand mining.

Pattison explained that while his company uses millions of gallons of water, 80 percent of it is recycled. The water not recycled is filtered into a clay-lined holding pond and tested before it is sent back into the water table.

“We are mindful of the impact this mining has on the environment, but it is our society causing the demand for the oil and natural gas,” stated Reagan. “Everything we use in daily life is either grown or mined.”

As the public continued to urge the P&Z Commission to take more time to study the issue, Kate Rattenborg simply stated, “Once the mines are allowed into the county, you can’t go back.”

Feeling that the conversations were dancing around the real issue, Decorah’s Jim McIntosh asked, “Can anyone here rationally oppose the opportunity to take the time to do this right? That is the question we are here to answer.”

“I feel we could live without the moratorium, but I would be in favor of one year,” said Doug Egeland before the vote. “I think people work harder and faster when they have a shorter deadline.”

Voting 8-1 with commission Egeland voting against, the P&Z Commission approved the 18-month moratorium.

Now the recommendation goes to the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors, which is expected to hold a public hearing in the near future.




Approximately 200 individuals packed the third-floor courtroom Tuesday, May 14, at the Winneshiek County Courthouse, both in favor and against a 24-month frac sand mining moratorium. Although comments were limited to three-minute sessions, the public hearing took almost two hours before the Winneshiek County Planning and Zoning Commission reached an agreement to recommend an 18-month moratorium to the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors. (Becky Walz photo) 



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