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State enters silica sand fracas

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RED WING — Louy Stambaugh wants state agencies to help stop many trucks loaded with silica sand from pounding past her Lake City home.

Jeanne Pietig, a member of the Wabasha County Planning and Zoning Commission, wants help from the Minnesota Attorney General's office to fight legal battles with large silica-sand mining or processing companies.

Kevin Krause, Wabasha County zoning administrator, wants state help in monitoring levels of crystalline silica in the air.

All three, and many more county, city and township officials, and the public, told several top state officials what they want from them as part of a new process that is offering expertise of agencies such as the Department of Natural Resources, Pollution Control Agency and Minnesota Department of Transportation, to local governments. They met Friday morning in Red Wing and Friday afternoon in Winona, both hotbeds for silica sand issues, and they heard a lot about what the state can, or should, do.

The 2013 Minnesota Legislature allocated money not to regulate the growing industry to mine, move and process the sand used in fracking for oil and natural gas, but to offer state expertise.

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The meetings were a first big step in having top state officials hear from local people what's needed, said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. He said after the Red Wing meeting that he heard a lot of issues he expected, as well as two he hadn't heard before — the need for legal help and for monitoring for pollution.

MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine said he also heard a great idea — hold a "tabletop" exercise before any major silica sand mines are proposed, to find out which township, city, county and state agencies would do what, how they might overlap and where there would be gaps.

Stambaugh was a voice for quiet. She said she lives along U.S. 61 in Lake City where a big increase in silica mining, moving or processing would mean more trucks and less peace for her and neighbors. Or it could mean more trains coming a few blocks behind her house and the local high school, she said.

While she applauded new state rules that protect trout, she said the state also has to look out for her. Companies have a right to mine, but not at the expense of others' health, she said.

"We need more help, we need some more leverage because we're small," she said.

Pietig said big companies can threaten to sue small governments, and those governments need state legal help. "They don't have the money to fund the lawyers to oppose major corporations," she said. Big companies can also just ignore rules and pay small fines, she said. "Those issues are bigger than teensy little cities or counties," she said.

Krause said the county can have great regulations and equipment to keep an eye on silica in the air, but often don't have people to monitor it.

Goodhue County Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel suggested that state help would be great in protecting ground water. If a major mine comes in, it could deplete ground water resources in a large area, possibly across county lines, he said. Or it could pollute ground water in more than one county, he said.

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At the end of the meeting, state agency heads said they will take the information, and suggestions, back to St. Paul to try find what the state can or can't do.

One of the first concrete things local governments will see is a draft model ordinance for local governments. It will be available soon and will be the subject of a Minnesota Environmental Quality Board meeting Sept. 18.

Tthe EQB is made up mostly of heads of the agencies, including those at the Friday meetings.

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A public hearing on whether to extent the Goodhue County silica sand mining moratorium is on the county board's agenda for its meeting that begins at 10 a.m. Tuesday. The county's planning advisory committee unanimously voted to recommend the county board not extend its moratorium, which is set to expire Sept. 6. That vote echoes a July 8 recommendation from the county's silica sand study committee, which has been meeting for most of the two-year interim ordinance.

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