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Winona County forwards model silica ordinance

Winona County commissioners Marie Kovecsi, center, and Greg Olson inspect jars filled with silica sand Tuesday at the Winona County Board of Commissioners meeting. Commissioner Marcia Ward, left, brought the jars to colleagues and asked if they could tell the difference between frac sand and regular silica sand.

WINONA — The Winona County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday voted 4-1 in favor of accepting a modified ordinance from the Winona County Attorney's Office based on the silica sand mining ban written by the Land Stewardship Project.

As part of the vote, the board also forwarded that model ordinance to the Winona County Planning Commission for review and consideration.

That begins a process, said Winona County Attorney Karin Sonneman, where the ban will be reviewed for 60 days while hearings are held to gather public comment, and the draft of the ban could be forwarded to the zoning board to see how it would affect the comprehensive land-use plan for the county.

Commissioner Marcia Ward was the lone vote against, though Commissioner Steve Jacob said he was voting in favor so as to initiate the process for review and public hearings on the topic.

"We're moving the discussion forward," Jacob said. "It's an open wound in the community, and we're never going to get closure unless we let people come forward."


About 10 people came forward at the start of the meeting, most supporting a ban on mining silica sand for the purpose of hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

Johanna Rupprecht, policy organizer for the LSP, said the organization supports the changes made to their model ordinance.

"It's a different approach from the model language LSP had introduced, but it still accomplishes the same goal of banning any new frac sand mining, processing or transportation operations," she said.

Bill Rowekamp addressed the board, saying the ban would infringe upon landowner rights, which he said did not seem to be part of the discussion.

"In reality, you're taking the right of the landowner away to use his property as he sees fit within the law," he said. "I'm hoping you board members will remember the farmers' rights."

Keith Laken, a Winona County resident, said those rights did not extend to respecting one's neighbors. "I do not have the right to destroy my neighbor's property," he said.

Jacob and Ward dominated the discussion on the ban language from the board's side, directing many of the questions to Sonneman.

The ban would prohibit outlined industrial uses of silica sand, prohibiting the mining, processing, storage and transportation of silica sand for industrial uses, namely for fracking, Jacob said. That narrow definition would leave the county open to legal action by singling out one specific use of the sand.


"We can say this isn't singling out one business, but it is," Jacob said.

He mentioned foundry uses and glassmaking as two examples of industrial uses of silica sand.

"The solar power industry uses vast qualities of sand to make glass," he said. "If the true spirit of the ban is to protect the county, I would want our county protected no matter what the sand is used for."

Ward took Jacob's point a step further, pulling three jars filled with silica sand from a bag and asking her colleagues to say which jar contained the industrial sand and which contained the construction sand.

"I don't understand how you can make the distinction that one sand is evil, and one sand is OK," she said.

Sonneman said the purpose of the public hearings when the planning commission investigates the ban language will be to help set those definitions for what is industrial sand and what is construction sand.

"This starts the process and answers the board's request for a viable amendment," Sonneman said. "This is not cast in stone as take it or leave it."

"What's the difference?" Commissioner James Pomeroy asked rhetorically. "It's the massive volume verses normal, conventional uses," he said, adding that silica sand for fracking requires more sand and more processing, meaning a greater use of county resources. "That's a big deal."


Before voting, Commissioner Marie Kovecsi said the vote Tuesday was really about beginning the process of the discussion. Commissioner Greg Olson said he expected the modified model ordinance to change during the process of public comments and review by the planning commission.

"I hope we can do something that protects the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Winona," Olson said.

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Winona County Commissioner Marcia Ward brought three jars of silica sand to Tuesday's Winona County Board of Commissioners meeting. Ward asked her colleagues if they could tell the difference between the silica sand meant for hydraulic fracturing and regular silica sand.

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