August 3rd, 2013
Yesterday two meetings were held by the the Environmental Quality Board, Dept. of Natural Resources, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Dept. of Health, and Dept. of Transportation, and the Gov.’s Ellen Anderson, joined by a large crew of agency staff and a good sampling of county, city and township officials — good to see a crew from Red Wing and Goodhue County. The MPCA’s Stine has been on Alan’s list for some time, and we’ve been dealing with him a lot lately, the EQB and Ellen Anderson too, and I think it helps to be able to have some history with them and get right to business.
A good time was had by all. The agency reps appeared more engaged and tracking than they usually are, and you could dance to it — I’ll give it a 98. But come on… not even coffee… granted I was up at “too early o’clock” to finish my handout, but… zzzzzzzzzzzz…
Notice of these meetings was a problem, or rather, lack of notice, because this was a stage where public participation is crucial — they need to know we care and can contribute. They wanted it kept to “local governments,” but that doesn’t cut it, this is a public meeting about an immediate and high-profile issue. It must be open. There’s no excuse for keeping it under wraps.
The most important thing I heard was repeated comments by Jon Linc Stine, MPCA, in particular, was whether local governments had taken advantage of the new legislative option to extend a moratorium. At the Red Wing meeting, Goodhue County had Lisa Hanni responding for the county. Hanni was dodging and weaving on that moratorium question, stating that they acted based on the law as it was, that they had to get their work done on the timeline of their moratorium. I’d sure have appreciated the addition of a simple statement that the County would take that suggestion of extending the moritorium under advisement!!! State agency officials have a typically hands off approach to local units of government, there are turf issues here, but the repeated questions and statements encouraging extension of the moratorium are as close to a direct statement as I’ve ever seen. There was encouragement to check with attorneys about extension, and encouragement for local governments to participate in this state process — they’re looking for input — so let’s give it to them!!!
Prior to the meeting, I drafted a letter and proposed standards and criteria, off the cuff suggestions to get the ball rolling. In the letter, there were two important requests:
- Appointment of a rulemaking Advisory Committee.
- No state permitting of silica sand mines until Standards & Criteria AND rules are completed.
Here are the Comments of Winona County Citizens Concerned About Silica Mining:
At the Red Wing meeting, I was particularly encouraged to note that Richard Peterson from a township in Le Sueur County was there to discuss what it’s like to live with a mine next door. Specific points were that despite a provision for an “annual review,” the community received no notification that the annual review was happening! Blasting was an issue because they are blasting constantly. Reclamation is not keeping up, and they’re piling up large piles, 600 FOOT PILES, and not capping it, so the wind is blowing it all around. I’m glad someone near the Minnesota River mines was here, and hope the state will schedule meetings there, and also near the St. Croix mines. It’s not just SE Minnesota, folks, this is a far broader problem (map from StPPP)
James Riddle spoke at the Winona meeting. He’s from Winona, and has recently been appointed to the MPCA Citizens Board, and had quite a back and forth regarding trout streams, protected areas, and groundwater.
One thing they’ll be doing is providing notice to local governments, AND I HOPE THE PUBLIC, of pre-application meetings with the agencies so that local governments will have a heads up. That’s important because if there is an application to a local government, there’s only a 60 day window to act, and that’s just not enough time for permit review of something with potential for such extensive impacts.
Something that came up repeatedly was counties ability to work together on road issues, to jointly institute road impact fees, and the DOT will be digging up more information about this. That’s good because road impacts is an issue mandated for Standards and Criteria development.
Also, reclamation was a recurring issue, and the importance of reclamation standards and requirements to keep up with destruction, and also to address dormancy, if the mine just sits, how long can it sit before reclamation kicks in.
It was a great relief to have the DOT COMMISSIONER there, that’s Charles Zelle. The DOT isn’t directly involved in rulemaking mandated in the statute, but transportation is such an important issue here with potential for major impacts. And the Commissioner is a better choice to represent the agency. At past meetings we’ve seen that awful Dave Christian, who was a frac sand mining toady, actively advocating for sand mining (he said he has family or friends involved in mining … own land? An inappropriate role as he wears his DOT hat. Perhaps, as with Dennis Egan, he should be fired.). Zelle was up on some issues, and others he needs to do some research, and particularly he should take a drive through Winona on the haul routes, look at the piles, and head down Highway 76 between Houston and Caledonia during hauling times!
Here’s the write up of the meetings in the Roch PB:
RED WING Louy Stambaugh wants state agencies to help stop many trucks loaded with silica sand from pounding past her Lake City home.
Jeanne Pietig, a member of the Wabasha County Planning and Zoning Commission, wants help from the Minnesota Attorney General’s office to fight legal battles with large silica-sand mining or processing companies.
All three, and many more county, city and township officials, and the public, told several top state officials what they want from them as part of a new process that is offering expertise of agencies such as the Department of Natural Resources, Pollution Control Agency and Minnesota Department of Transportation, to local governments. They met Friday morning in Red Wing and Friday afternoon in Winona, both hotbeds for silica sand issues, and they heard a lot about what the state can, or should, do.
The meetings were a first big step in having top state officials hear from local people what’s needed, said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. He said after the Red Wing meeting that he heard a lot of issues he expected, as well as two he hadn’t heard before the need for legal help and for monitoring for pollution.
MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine said he also heard a great idea hold a “tabletop” exercise before any major silica sand mines are proposed, to find out which township, city, county and state agencies would do what, how they might overlap and where there would be gaps.
Stambaugh was a voice for quiet. She said she lives along U.S. 61 in Lake City where a big increase in silica mining, moving or processing would mean more trucks and less peace for her and neighbors. Or it could mean more trains coming a few blocks behind her house and the local high school, she said.
Pietig said big companies can threaten to sue small governments, and those governments need state legal help. “They don’t have the money to fund the lawyers to oppose major corporations,” she said. Big companies can also just ignore rules and pay small fines, she said. “Those issues are bigger than teensy little cities or counties,” she said.
Goodhue County Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel suggested that state help would be great in protecting ground water. If a major mine comes in, it could deplete ground water resources in a large area, possibly across county lines, he said. Or it could pollute ground water in more than one county, he said.
One of the first concrete things local governments will see is a draft model ordinance for local governments. It will be available soon and will be the subject of a Minnesota Environmental Quality Board meeting Sept. 18.
A public hearing on whether to extent the Goodhue County silica sand mining moratorium is on the county board’s agenda for its meeting that begins at 10 a.m. Tuesday. The county’s planning advisory committee unanimously voted to recommend the county board not extend its moratorium, which is set to expire Sept. 6. That vote echoes a July 8 recommendation from the county’s silica sand study committee, which has been meeting for most of the two-year interim ordinance.