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Silica sand mining opponents press Dayton for ban

Marilyn Frauenkron Bayer leads a press conference at the State Office Building in St. Paul before a group opposed to frac sand mining in southeast Minnesota presented a petition with more 6,000 signatures to Gov. Mark Dayton calling for a two-year ban on silica sand mining.

ST. PAUL — Toting signs that read "This is farmland, not fracland" and " Save southeastern Minnesota," about 100 opponents of silica sand mining traveled to the state Capitol on Tuesday to urge the governor to impose a two-year ban on silica mining in southeast Minnesota.

"We need Gov. Dayton to take the strongest action possible to protect our community from the frac-sand industry," said Wabasha City Council member Lynn Schoen. "We cannot let short-term profits for a few investors come at the expense of our environment, our small-town living."

The group traveled to Gov. Mark Dayton's office to hand deliver a box of 6,000 petitions circulated by the Land Stewardship Project asking the governor to use his authority under the Critical Areas Act to impose a two-year ban. But mining opponents were greeted with unwelcome news. Dayton told reporters his legal counsel has concluded he does not have the authority to impose such a ban because the issue was considered by the Legislature last session and rejected. He said opponents should "go first and foremost to their local officials and press their case there."

He reiterated that he personally supports a mining ban.

"I'd like to ban it entirely. I think the environmental risks are far greater than the economic benefits in terms of jobs and economic benefits to the area," he said. "But that's not the law, and we're enjoined to enforce the law."


Dayton noted that only one southeast Minnesota lawmaker, Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, had shown support for a moratorium on silica-sand mining. The rest of the legislative delegation opposed it.

Silica sand is a key ingredient in hydraulic fracturing or "fracking." The technique involves pumping sand, water and chemicals into shale formations. The high-pressure mixture creates fractures in the rock, releasing the oil and gas trapped inside.

Bobby King, an organizer with the Land Stewardship Project, said his organization disagrees with Dayton's legal counsel and believes the governor has the authority to impose the ban if he wants to do it.

"We're still concerned and we're still demanding that all of our elected officials do as much as they possibly can to stop this industry that offers nothing of worth to our communities," King told mining opponents gathered in the Governor's Reception Room.

About half of the mining opponents rode up on buses for the Earth Day action. Along the way, the group held news conferences in Winona and Red Wing before reaching the Capitol. The Land Stewardship Project also released a poll in advance to Tuesday's lobbying push that found 64 percent of 647 Minnesotans who were polled supported a two-year moratorium. Johanna Rupprecht, policy organizer with the Land Stewardship Project, said her organization is aware of 14 active and proposed silica-sand mines in southeast Minnesota.

Dennis Hatleli, of Lake City, is among those who signed the Land Stewardship Project's petition. He said the ban is particularly important in the wake of lawmakers' approval last year of state dollars to support Mayo Clinic's planned 20-year expansion as part of Destination Medical Center.

"In order to protect that $500 million investment that our state has made to this project and ensure the greatest positive effect of these dollars in our region, it is imperative our state does whatever is necessary to keep silica-sand mining out of southern Minnesota," he said.

But industrial sand producers warn that if the governor were to impose a ban on mining under the Critical Areas Act, the impact could extend far beyond mining. Minnesota Industrial Sand Council's Executive Director Dennis Egan said that provision could affect other types of development, which could hurt Rochester's Destination Medical Center efforts.


"If the governor were to move forward with the Critical Areas Act, it would have an impact on development in Rochester," he said. "It's another layer of state oversight for communities in southeast Minnesota if this were to be enacted."

Egan also pointed to a package of toughened regulations passed last session for silica-sand mining development. He noted that legislation allows local governments to extend their mining moratoriums beyond the previous two-year limit to three years. His group is asking the governor to allow those newly passed laws to work.

But Marilyn Frauenkron Bayer, of rural Houston, said the state cannot afford to wait when it comes to silica sand mining.

"Action is needed, because the frac-sand mining destroys the land, puts our aquifers at risk, decreases home values, pollutes our water and air along with who knows what unintended consequences," she said. "And for what? Short-term profits for a few mostly outside investors who will leave us with their mess."

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