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For townships, silica not a hot issue

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Silica-sand mines could hit some townships hard with dust, noise and road damage, but what to do about the mines might not be a major issue at the township annual meetings planned across the area on Tuesday.

Most townships are waiting for counties or the state to give them more information and to act on moratoriums, or to decide how to collect money to repair roads from heavy mining traffic, county township officer association officials said.

"It's an issue for the simple reason of wear and tear on the roads," said Rodney Koliha, president of the Fillmore County Township Officers Association. But many townships can't afford to draft and pass their own ordinances, he said. And if each did that, it would be a patchwork of rules or regulations that would be hard for mining companies to follow.

It's better for townships to talk about it locally and then take their concerns to the county and state, Koliha said. A countywide ordinance makes more sense, he said.

Dean Tollefson, chairman of the town board for Saratoga Township,in southern Winona County, where three mines have been proposed, said, "it's kind of up to the county. There hasn't been much discussion at the meetings about it."

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Tollefson only expects a handful of people will come to Tuesday's annual meeting and the main topic, as usual, will be the budget. Also, with the two biggest mines agreeing to do a full environmental impact statement, the silica issue is pushed further out, he said.

David Stevenson, a member of the Wabasha County Township Officers Association, said townships have a wide spectrum of interest in silica mines, with some thinking it's a good thing but others against it. The closer townships are to possible mines or transportation facilities, the more concerned they get, he said.

When the officers met in February, the issue wasn't even mentioned, he said. Stevenson said he thinks most are waiting for the county to act but added if they want change, "we are the ones who are supposed to start change."

Len Feuling, head of the Goodhue County Township Officers Association, agreed the issue's intensity varies. He said he is more neutral. "There's a place for it and place not for it," he said. Townships need to protect themselves so they don't have their roads destroyed, have too many trucks and end up with a big hole in the ground when the mine closes, he said.

Feuling says townships need state government to provide its expertise, but for decisions to stay local.

"Locally, we want to keep our thumb on it," he said.

Barb St. John, another Goodhue official, said "frack is probably the biggest issue now," but it's helpful to townships that a county land-use manager is involved and talking to them. Like Feuling, she says townships are most interested in things they have control over, such as traffic and roads.

Arlyn Pohlman, a member of the Houston County Township Officers Association, also said roads are the main issue with silica mines. But it's not something townships can do a lot about, he says.

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"It's something we're working through with the zoning," he said. "We're trying to get through at the county level."

Township roads can be a major problem for big trucks because they tend to be narrow, winding and gravel-surfaced, he said.

The Post-Bulletin will publish the results of township elections if submitted. Clerks can email results to news@postbulletin.com.

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