August 6th, 2013
Today the Goodhue County Board voted to extend the silica sand mining moratorium for another six months. A very disturbing point learned in their deliberations was that the County Board had NOT been informed of the Save the Bluffs’ Application for Zoning Ordinance Amendment before the meeting, staff had not told them. Can you believe!?!?!?!
It was standing room only in the big former courtroom. Before the meeting started:
There was great testimony, people have a good handle on the facts, and laid out the reasons. For my part, I hammered on simple procedural realities:
- The Mining Study Committee has two more issues to address
- The state must develop standards and criteria, is on a compressed schedule and also working on four mandated rulemakings
- THE PRIMARY TASK ASSIGNED TO THE PLANNING COMMISSION HAS NOT BEEN COMPLETED!!! THE PAC WAS TO DETERMINE AREAS APPROPRIATE AND INAPPROPRIATE FOR FRAC SAND MINING AND HAS NOT!!
Each person testifying was urging the County to extend the moratorium. The state, on Friday, sent a clear message to extend the moratorium so state could get its legislatively mandated work done (note not all of the County Board members bothered to show up for the state agency meeting here last Friday).
Comm. Siefert gave a most uninformed lecture about how we need energy, “remember lining up at the gas pumps?” Hard to stomach… he demonstrated he knows nothing about the natural gas market, even MPR noted that “demand for the sand used for hydraulic fracturing has slowed in recent months.” He also seems to not connect the explosion in Lac Megantic last month with the sort of cars that go through downtown Red Wing daily. He represents the 5th District, not up for re-election until 2017… that’s our old one in Red Wing, and I’m both glad and sad, because it’d be a lot easier to work to elect someone reasonable if we were still in his district. He’s got to go.
I also strongly disagreed with County Attorney Betcher’s discussion of state mandates and implications and applications to county permitting. The county should not open the doors to applications before the state standards and criteria are complete, expected October 1, 2013, and the FOUR rulemaking proceedings, one each at DNR and MPCA and two at EQB. That will take a long time, and the County better show up for that.
It was clear from Comm. Rechtzigel’s preamble that he was doing a set up for a lesser time than one year, and they voted down the one year, and it was only a matter of seconds, up pops the 90 day option, which Comm. Allen turned into a friendly amended 6 month moratorium and after they got Comm. Samuelson caught up, it was approved. A little birdie suggested that the 90 day had been agreed to, and that Comm. Allen raised them and pulled it off — I’m inclined to agree — it was clear another motion would follow, that much I was betting on. Better than nothing, but not adequate. I predict we’ll all be back after 6 months because the state will not have its rulemaking completed.
Part of their story was off base:
Some Goodhue County residents have said more studies are needed to assess the affect of mining on roads, safety and quality of life.
The County assigned tasks to the Mining Study Committee, and they did not complete the work, as was discussed at the hearing. There is also the Save the Bluffs application pending:
After the hearing, I wrote them a quick missive:
County Board Members:
I was stunned to learn at the hearing today that the County Board had not been advised of the Save the Bluff’s Application for Zoning Ordinance Amendment. That something so relevant to today’s decision was withheld from you by county staff is very disturbing.
That said, I’m grateful for today’s decision, which was indeed much like a “good” divorce settlement where everyone walks away not happy.
I do wonder where the others were who are walking away equally unhappy. How are the mining interests exerting their influence? They’re obviously not showing up at meetings. I’ll be pursuing this going forward.
Thank you for this decision which gives the County some time to complete the assignment to the MCS, to address where silica mining does and does not belong, and to address the District Overlay Application (attached).
Attached also is the CASM Comments August 2, 2013 to the EQB and other agencies regarding standards and criteria and rulemaking for those of you not present at Friday’s meeting. I hope the County will take full advantage of participation options, and would request the agencies form an Advisory Committee for increased input prior to the draft rules are released — the crucial time in rulemaking.
Carol A. Overland
as an individual and not in the course of representing any party
From the Rochester Post Bulletin:
RED WING The Goodhue County Board bucked recommendations from two lesser entities on Tuesday and voted unanimously to extend its moratorium on silica sand mining by an additional 180 days. The interim ordinance has been in place since 2011 and was scheduled to expire Sept. 6.
The vote came after more than two hours of coordinated public comment, largely from the Save the Bluffs opposition group. The county board rejected a one-year extension of the moratorium a decision that drew boos and jeers from the crowd of about 75.
Many expected the county board to simply let the moratorium expire. The board’s mining study group and planning commission previously recommended that course. However, board chairman Dan Rechtzigel credited a persistent campaign from the opposition group with changing his mind.
“The grassroots efforts over the weekend was one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen,” said Rechtzigel, noting the moratorium would have “awkwardly” ended before the state convened its technical review panel on the issue Oct. 1.
“Politics is the art of compromise (and) six months makes everyone equally unhappy. Some people will say it’s too long, and some people will say it’s too short. I guess this is the porridge that’s just right for Goldilocks.”
Silica sand mining has become a statewide issue since Windsor Permian purchased 155 acres of land near Red Wing in early 2011. The sand is highly sought after for use in the hydraulic fracturing process, which is used to extract natural gas and oil from deep within the earth. Most counties in southeastern Minnesota are dealing with the silica sand mining issue in some manner, and the issue prompted Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing to push legislation during the last session.
Numerous state agencies are currently examining silica sand mining issues in hopes of creating universal guidelines that can be useful at the local level. The issues range from health and environmental effects to road and water impacts.
Goodhue County has updated its mining ordinance twice since 2011, but many feel that it remains unfit to be tested. The Red Wing City Council, Red Wing School Board and the Lake City Tourism Bureau were among those who urged the county board to extend its moratorium in order to make additional changes.
“With all due respect to the people who put this together, every page looks like this,” Lake City Tourism Bureau Director Greg Schreck said as he showed the crowd a heavily marked-up version of the county’s mining ordinance. “I worked for one of the largest construction companies in the world, or at least the United States. I wrote multimillion dollar contracts for the people who built the Sears Tower and the people who are building the new World Trade Center. It’s not so much what’s in here as what’s not in here.”
Schreck became involved in the silica saind in June, but he’s since become Save the Bluffs’ most outspoken advocate for protecting the multi-million dollar tourism industry along the Mississippi River. Amy Nelson, of Save the Bluffs, called his expertise “huge, huge, huge” to the group’s cause.
It remains to be seen what the county’s next step will be. Save the Bluffs would like to see an economic impact study done, but Rechtzigel said he is opposed to dealing in costly hypotheticals. Commissioner Richard Samuelson may push for a cap on silica mines in the county, similar to a limit adopted in Fillmore County, and the comprehensive plan could be amended to protect recreational uses.
Save the Bluffs has also submitted paperwork to the county requesting an overlay district that would ban silica mining in certain parts of the county, such as along the river. It will be discussed by the planning commission on Aug. 19 and could take months to resolve.
Goodhue County may pursue a different path, though. Rechtzigel intends to petition the state to volunteer as a guinea pig to test the state and local rules and process in hopes of identifying issues through a mock application.