In less than three months after voting to allow Superior Sands Systems to operate without completing an Environmental Assessment Worksheet for its frac sand storage and loading facility along the Canadian Pacific tracks, the Wabasha City Council has chosen to enact two sand industry moratoria.
The Winona Daily News reports in Wabasha approves two frac sand moratoriums:
The Wabasha City Council approved its first frac sand moratorium Tuesday night, which halts all new or expanding operations.
The council also approved a second moratorium, which halts companies with significant truck traffic from expanding to more than 500 regular trips a day or more than 30 heavy trips. A heavy truck is one that weighs more than 26,000 pounds. The truck-traffic moratorium only applies to the west end of town, from east of U.S. Hwy. 61 to northwest of Gambia Avenue.
Back in December, the Associated Press reported, via the LaCrosse Tribune, that the council's decision to approve the Superior Sands' permit came despite local citizens' objections:
Over 150 citizens petitioned for the city to order a review called an environmental assessment worksheet, citing health, traffic and safety concerns. But the council voted 5-1 against ordering the review Monday night after Superior Sands officials said federal railroad law trumps the state law under which the citizens filed their petition.
. . . Craig Falkum, a leader of Friends of Wabasha, told the council he believes the city of 2,500 is ill-equipped to regulate frac sand on its own and urged a review by experienced professionals who could help the city determine the operation’s risks, Minnesota Public Radio reported.
“There are too many residences in the nearby area, as well as prominent industry and a clinic and a hospital to allow this operation to proceed without a thorough investigation,” Falkum said.
Paul van Eijl, a lands acquisitions manager with Superior Sand, said the company is working with Wabasha’s planning board to address many of the residents’ concerns through the city’s standard permitting process. But he said the city lacked authority to order the environmental review, citing a federal law that prohibits states from regulating railroads.
Council member Catherine Gallenberger said ordering the review would have cost too much and risked a legal battle. .. .
Those following personnel in the frac sand wars will likely recognize van Eijl as the former Buffalo County (WI) zoning administrator who landed a frac sand job in February 2012. Under his watch, the Buffalo County Zoning Committee, considered a moratorium in 2011, but in declined from taking any action in December of that year. Tony Kennedy of the Star Tribune has more here.
The Friends of Wabasha had appealed the earlier decision--and had been turned down--in part because of a local official's involvement with the company. On February 6, Winona Daily News staff writer Tesla Rodriquez reported in Wabasha considers frac sand moratorium, looks at stopping industry growth:
The appeal against Superior Sand Systems was filed more than a month ago by a group of citizens who oppose the frac sand industry.
The Friends of Wabasha based its appeal on several alleged errors in the permitting process, including that the city failed to consider potential job losses related to tourism, any potential impact on property values, that the facility conflicts with the city’s comprehensive plan, and that the applicant falsely represented the need to begin operations by Dec. 20.
The company had argued that it had guaranteed contracts that required it to be up and running by the end of December, but by early January the facility had not yet opened.
The group also alleged that one of the planning commission members, Brian Wodele, shouldn’t have voted to approve the facility last month because of a perceived conflict of interest. Wodele is the office manager at a land surveying and engineering company that Superior Sand Systems has contracted with. Wodele told the commission of his involvement during the early part of the permitting process, and said that since he is an employee, not an owner. Because he didn’t stand to gain financially through the deal, he was allowed to vote on the permit, said city attorney Peter Ekstrand.
With friends like this, the industrial mining industry shouldn't wonder why busloads of local Southeast Minnesota citizens have headed to the state capitol in support of the bill they asked freshman Senator Matt Schmitt to write, then amend.
Or why the headlines read: Frac sand mining moratorium bill advances.
Meanwhile, other local governments in Minnesota and Iowa struggle with the industry. The Houston County News reports in County board extends frac sand moratorium:
The Houston County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution extending the frac sand moratorium for an additional year at its meeting Tuesday. The resolution was passed following a public hearing to discuss the extension.
During the hearing, several county residents spoke out in favor of the moratorium extension. Sarah Wexler-Mann first thanked the commissioners for supporting the study of the issue and supporting Sen. Matt Schmit’s bill for a statewide moratorium.
And the Decorah News reports in Supervisors hear pros, cons of frac-sand:
Although there are currently no permit applications to mine frac sand in Winneshiek County, a number of concerned citizens want to make sure county officials have a plan to deal with them.
At Monday's meeting of the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors, Decorah resident Rob Carbonell asked the Board to consider an 18-month moratorium on frac-sand mining in the county, similar to the moratorium, which recently went into effect in Allamakee County.
After thanking the Supervisors for their service to the community, Carbonell encouraged the Board to enact a moratorium, explaining, "It helps you buy time to do right by everyone in the county."
Carbonell also commented the Board is responsible for making sure the county's roads are maintained and suggested if they didn't want to make a decision about whether or not to allow frac-sand mining, the issue could be put to a popular vote.
"I'm not a knee-jerk environmentalist. I like my hot water and my gas stove. I would be a hypocrite if I said otherwise," he said. . . .
. . ."I'd be willing to pay a little more for my natural gas bill to know my trout streams aren't going to become over-silted, tourism won't go in the toilet and what used to be pretty is not."
Carbonell added he understands the need for sand mining, but asked that it be done "reasonably, sensibly and sustainably."
While most of those testifying to board of supervisors were in Carbonell's camp, the general manager of Olson Explosives of Decorah argued the industry's case. Go check it out.
Meanwhile, back in Minnesota, Rochester Post Bulletin reporter Brett Boese has tweeted that the Executive Director of the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council Dennis Egan has made his resignation formal:
Red Wing Mayor Dennis Egan has submitted his signed, written resignation to the city, effective April 1, over frac sand concerns.— Brett Boese (@PBbboese) March 7, 2013
Photo: A frac sand train wreck in Wisconsin (top); Wabasha (via KAAL, middle); a bumper sticker in rural northeastern Iowa (bottom).
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