Red Wing, townships support silica ban along Mississippi River
RED WING — Goodhue County has tabled a proposal to ban silica sand mining near the Mississippi River, but smaller government entities have begun lining up in support of the ban.
Florence and Hay Creek townships were the first to act, submitting resolutions of support last month for one-mile setbacks from the high-water mark of the Mississippi River. The setbacks, first proposed by opposition group Save the Bluffs, are in an attempt to protect local recreation and economic opportunities in and around Lake Pepin. The Red Wing City Council approved even stronger language at its Monday meeting.
At the recommendation of its Planning Commission and some members of its Sustainability Commission — a quorum was not present to hold a formal vote — Red Wing approved language supporting the setbacks already approved by the two townships, while also seeking to extend setbacks one mile inland from the center line of U.S. 61 to protect the bluffs and scenic areas.
Brian Peterson, Red Wing's planning director, said that could mean up to a four-mile setback from the river in order to protect "view sheds" near U.S. Highway 61. Lisa Bayley, Red Wing's City Council president, explained that the decision reflects the city's desire "to recognize that we're part of … an entire river front, and this shows our support for that."
"What pleased me the most is their willingness to support the resolution and actually add to it to increase the setback," said Save the Bluffs spokeswoman Jody McIlrath, who is also on the Florence Township planning commission. "The Red Wing City Council really gets it with regard to their knowledge on frac sand."
The Lake City City Council is expected to vote on a resolution of support on Oct. 14.
Officials from Pepin County, which is in Wisconsin across Lake Pepin from Lake City, have urged Goodhue County to adopt regulations similar to their own. In July, Pepin County banned all silica operations for a 10-mile strip along Lake Pepin in an effort to protect its tourism economy, among other things.
Save the Bluffs' initial proposal to Goodhue County was an overlay district similar to Pepin County's language. However, that idea has been tabled so that two members of the opposition group can work with Goodhue County's Mining Study Group to secure support on four specific issues:
• One-mile setbacks from hamlets and other residential areas.
• One-mile setbacks from the high-water mark of the Mississippi River.
• Ban flocculants used in the washing of silica sand.
• Stricter penalties for violations by mining companies.
McIlrath said the committee was initially reluctant to support the first two requests, but "progress" had been made with the latter. The study group met again this week to discuss the topic.Goodhue County's Planning Commission will weigh the issue next, potentially in October, before it heads to the county board for a final decision.
Silica sand mining has become a statewide issue, but it started in Goodhue County in 2011 when an Oklahoma-based company purchased 155 acres near Red Wing with the intention of building a silica sand mine. The county responded by imposing a moratorium to study the issue. That moratorium was extended in August for a third time.
Goodhue County's moratorium will now expire in March, presumably allowing enough time for the state to provide guidance on the health and environmental concerns surrounding silica sand mining.