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Marilyn Frauenkron Bayer: DNR silica sand mine decision was right for Houston County

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The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources should be commended for its decisive action to ensure important new laws to protect trout streams from silica sand mining are not ignored. The law is straightforward and requires silica sand mines within one mile of a trout stream to get a DNR silica sand mining ​trout stream setback permit before mining.

The DNR told the owners of the Erickson silica sand mine in Houston County that mining at their site would require this permit. Despite this, ​the mine owners started mining without the permit. Acting quickly, the DNR ordered mining to stop, in accordance with the law.

​This case is particularly important because it is the first test of the new law. One can be sure​ many people who would like to mine silica sand for fracking in southeastern​ Minnesota were wondering if the DNR was going to be serious about enforcing this permit requirement. I know citizens like myself were counting on the DNR. It is clear now the DNR is serious, which is good news. I know hundreds of people in Houston County and thousands throughout the state were glad to see this.

The misinformation about the issue from some Houston County officials is troubling and two issues must be clarified. First, the DNR permit is about silica sand mining. It does not matter what the end use of the silica sand is. The law mandates if a company wants to mine silica sand within a mile of a trout stream, it needs a DNR permit. Anything dug at the Erickson site will be silica sand. Calling it "construction sand" does not change that.

Second, the DNR permit is focused on protecting trout streams. It is up to the DNR to ensure silica sand mines within one mile of a trout stream apply for the permit and set the requirements for receiving one. It is separate from a Houston County land use permit,​which also is required. This regulatory structure is common. For example, very large factory farms must receive a local land use permit and a permit from the state Pollution Control Agency. They need both to operate and getting the county permit does not guarantee they will get the state-level permit. Oddly, some Houston County officials seem surprised by this and that Minnesota state law applies to Houston County.

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Look at the beauty of our region. The farms have been here for generations. The trout streams attract visitors from all over the world. This new law and permit requirement are about protecting the region and helping ensure our children and our children's children​ inherit what we have been blessed to enjoy. The DNR is doing the right thing in demanding this important new state law be followed. Short-term profits for a few should never be gained at the long-term expense of all of us.

Marilyn Frauenkron Bayer of Houston is a member of the Land Stewardship Project.

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