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Public hearing gathers voices for and against Winona County frac sand ban

Winona County commissioners Marcia Ward, left, and James Pomeroy confer before the public hearing Thursday at the Tandeski Center in Winona on proposed changes to the county zoning ordinance concerning mining of silica sand for hydraulic fracturing.

WINONA—A reference to the movie Groundhog's Day, a quote from Leviticus, and one wedding anniversary put on hold were some of the supporting points brought to the discussion of frac sand mining at Thursday's public hearing in Winona.

The public hearing, which lasted more than three hours and heard from 109 members of the public, was held to get input on the amendment to the Winona County Zoning Ordinance that was put forth by the county planning commission to restrict -- but not ban -- mining of silica sand for the hydraulic fracturing industry. But the night came down to veritable referendum on the two options: pass the ban or pass the restriction amendment referred to as the planning commission compromise.

Forty-four of those 109 people who stepped to the microphone spoke in support of the planning commission's proposal to limit frac sand mines to a total of six with a limit of 40 acres per mine. That left 65 people who supported the ban on mining for frac sand, but allowing the mining of silica sand for other purposes such as agricultural uses or construction materials.

Most of what was discussed were the issues that had been heard before, brought up by the people who had said them before.

"These meetings have the feeling like we're in the movie Groundhog's Day," said Kent Cowgill. Turning the argument about the economic impact of the mines back on the mining industry, he said the mines would harm tourism and property values more than they would add to the local economy.


Margaret Walsh echoed that sentiment. "I hope this is our last time at this," she said.

County Attorney Karin Sonneman has said that this public hearing is the last one required before the board of commissioners can take action on changing the zoning ordinance.

Linda Vanart of Wilson Township used the Bible to make her point, quoting a passage from Leviticus that the land is not owned by any man, but belongs to God. "I'm concerned about the ground water," she said. "All this mining puts the short-term interests of the mining industry versus the rights of the individual."

Ben Hawley, who introduced himself as a new professor of ecology, said he and his wife -- who were celebrating their anniversary at the meeting -- had recently moved to Winona because, in part, the natural beauty of the region. "If Winona County wants to attract professionals, they'll protect that," he said.

Supporters of a ban on frac sand mining in Winona County gathered Thursday at the Tandeski Center in Winona for a rally before the public hearing on proposed changes to the county zoning ordinance concerning mining of silica sand for hydraulic fracturing. Forty-seven businesses and groups signed a letter in support of the ban.

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