WINONA — Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would not hear Minnesota Sands LLC’s appeal against the Winona County frac sand ban.

By not hearing the case, the ordinance, which prevents the mining of silica sand for the purpose of hydraulic fracturing, will remain in place in Winona County. In a statement, the Land Stewardship Project, one of the driving forces behind the ban, said it is pleased that the court has "made the right decision, respecting the people of Winona County’s right to keep their communities safe from this harmful industry."

The ban was passed in 2016. At that point, Minnesota Sands, which holds leases on several silica sand tracts in Winona County, appealed the decision to the Winona District Court, then the Minnesota Court of Appeals, then later to the Minnesota Supreme Court. All refused to overturn the statute. In October 2020, Minnesota Sands petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case.

"The people of Winona County and throughout southeastern Minnesota have organized to oppose the frac sand industry for many years because this industry is incompatible with stewardship of the land and with healthy, thriving communities," LSP said in a written statement. "In passing the ban, the Winona County Board of Commissioners was fulfilling the proper role of local government, listening to the will of the people, and acting boldly to protect the common good for both people and the land."

Winona County ready to start Phase 1A COVID vaccinations

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WINONA — The Winona County Public Health Department is putting out a call to organizations with healthcare workers who do not work for either Winona Health Systems or Gundersen Health Systems. The department plans to create a list of employers to provide direct outreach when the COVID-19 vaccine is available for their employees.

Organizations that employ workers listed in the Phase 1A guidance should fill out a form with the county. Once the COVID-19 vaccine is available to those employees, a Winona County staff member will reach out to those organizations with a vaccination registration link for distribution to your organization’s employees.

Organizations unsure if they qualify under Phase 1A from the Minnesota Department of Health should contact vdestefano@co.winona.mn.us.

Lock and Dam 4 gets $3.5 million facelift during winter maintenance

ST. PAUL — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, closed its public access facilities at Alma, Wis., for Lock and Dam 4 for winter maintenance at the site.

According to the Corps, major winter maintenance occurs every 20 years, and that maintenance includes concrete repairs, sandblasting and repainting the miter gates, and updating the bubbler system used to prevent ice buildup within the lock chamber. This year's maintenance project costs $3.5 million and is scheduled to be completed by mid-March.

“We do this during the winter to ensure we don’t negatively impact navigation,” said Joe Schroetter, project manager.

The St. Paul District maintains 13 locks and dams from Minneapolis to Guttenberg, Iowa, and manages 243.6 miles of the Mississippi River's 9-foot navigation channel.

SMIF awards $160,000 in Inclusive and Equitable Communities Grants

OWATONNA — Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, in partnership with Region Nine Development Commission and SE MN Together, recently approved 10 grants through its new Inclusive and Equitable Communities Grant program totaling $160,000.

Ten organizations have earned grants to develop or expand initiatives that increase equity and inclusion within communities or support entrepreneurs in communities of diverse backgrounds. Grants awarded include the following:

• $15,000 to the Rochester Diversity Council to provide cultural aptitude training opportunities to government agencies throughout 11 counties of southeastern Minnesota.

• $15,000 to Engage Winona to expand and sustain an immersive leadership program for community members to create a more systemic pathway to equitable engagement.

• $19,500 to Hispanic Community and Empowerment through Research to expand an entrepreneurial training program throughout the Region Nine counties.

• $20,000 to Somali American Social Service Association to train students in overcoming barriers to future economic success and support parents in learning.

• $20,000 to The Village Community Garden & Learning Center to increase capacity, knowledge and support for immigrant farmers in the Rochester area who grow culturally relevant food.

• $15,000 to Winona Area Public Schools Community Education to improve educational outcomes for refugee and immigrant students and identify ways in which the schools can make systemic changes to build a more welcoming, affirming and richer learning environment for all students.