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P-E-M students lead community frac sand discussion

PLAINVIEW — The state champion FFA team from Plainview-Elgin-Millville led the discussion on frac sand mining Tuesday night at the Jon Hassler Theater in Plainview, presenting its winning Agricultural Issues Forum debate on the hot topic before more than 50 area residents.

The students — P.J. Aarsvold, Blake Betcher, Becky Duden, Daniel Evers, Ashley Klassen and Caroline Rother — covered several sides of the mining debate, with four of the team members arguing different points of view about the issue.

"We all studied our own side of the topic," said Rother, a junior who represented the pro-mining position of a construction worker.

Mining of silica sand, or frac sand, has grown rapidly in southeastern Minnesota. The sand is used in the hydraulic fracturing process for extracting natural gas and oil.

Evers, a sophomore, represented a farmer who talked about the opportunity for making money off of silica-rich land. Duden, a junior, gave the environmental position as a biologist, and Klassen voiced the concerns of a mother.


Aarsvold, a sophomore, and Betcher, a senior, served as narrators. At the end of the presentation, the students asked the audience, "Which hat would you wear?"

"I think it was quite effective to do it that way," said Paul Aarsvold, one of the school’s FFA advisers. "They made it much more personal."

Audience members had the opportunity to ask questions of members of the Frac Sand Mining Study Group, a Wabasha County committee that advocates regulation of the mining process. The group heard questions regarding restoring the land, water quality and trucking as it relates to frac sand mining.

"I was interested in what they said about monitoring wells and self-policing by the mining companies," said Rother. The questions from the audience and answers by the panel might help the students hone their presentation, she said. The students might even use the audience’s questions and feedback to add a few new issues to the mix when they take their presentation to the FFA national competition in Indianapolis in October.

Betcher said the topic was chosen because it hits close to home. With adults just now tackling frac sand mining concerns in local government — most counties in the region have or had a moratorium on new mining permits while they tackle issues around frac sand mining — the team’s research puts it in the middle of an issue that will affect Minnesotans.

"Plus, it has good and bad points on both sides of the issue," making it a compelling debate topic, said Rother.

In fact, the passion on both sides of the issue was apparent at the state competition, said the school’s other FFA adviser, Steve Hinrichs. "At state, one of the judges was really worked up about it," he said.

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