Call it a victory for organized rural people over corporate interests.
At the Star Tribune, Karen Zamora and Josephine Marcotty report in Winona County passes frac sand ban, first in the state to take such a stand:
Winona County commissioners voted Tuesday to ban the highly contentious industry of frac sand mining, making it the first county in the state to take such a stand.
After a 40-minute discussion in front of a roomful of community members, the ban passed, 3-2.
Commissioner Marie Kovecsi, who voted for the ban, said there are seven frac sand operations and an active mine in her district.
“These operations are literally in my constituents’ backyard,” Kovecsi said. “The direct implications of noise and dust and road safety are faced by my constituents.”
Sand mining in Minnesota and Wisconsin boomed and waned along with the oil and gas production practice known as hydrofracking.
The particular kind of sand found in parts of southeast Minnesota was in huge demand by exploration companies, which use it to prop open cracks in the underground shale formations that produce oil and natural gas. . .
[Frac sand] Opponents fear destruction of scenic bluffs along the Mississippi River, health problems from blowing silica sand dust, contamination of groundwater, and damage to roads and more accidents from the trucks that cart sand to and from transportation hubs. . . .
“People had their say and the local officials followed the will of the people,” she [Land Stewardship Project organizer Johanna Rupprecht] said. “They put the best interests of the citizens in the county and of the land of the county ahead of what’s best for the frac sand industry.”
Rupprecht had interned for the Land Stewardship Project's western Minnesota office earlier this decade, but went home to Winona County, where her family farms near Lewiston, to organize with her neighbors. Our stretch of the prairie's loss is Winona County's gain as this talented young person returned to her home county.
UPDATE 11/22: The Winona Daily News' Glen Olson reports in Winona County approves frac sand ban; vote comes amid final fight, legal threat:
Supporters of the ban have been vocal for several years to move the process forward, citing concerns with water and air quality, health effects on county residents and reclamation possibilities, as well as the ability of the Winona County planning department staff to oversee the industry given its size, resources and workload.
Commissioner Greg Olson, the leading proponent of the ban from its first proposal, an issue that in some ways defined his successful re-election campaign, maintained that the majority of the people he heard from supported the ban.
“I’d put more weight on the public that had spoken … than I do a letter from an attorney from Minneapolis,” Olson said, addressing ongoing concerns that an outright ban could invite legal challenges to the county. “I think (the people) have been very unanimous.”
Maybe not all populism is anti-environment. [end update]
In a statement on its website, the Land Stewardship Project writes in In Historic Vote, Winona County Board Passes Ban on Frac Sand Operations:
The Winona County Board of Commissioners voted tonight to pass a ban on any new frac sand mining, processing, storage or transport operations in the southeastern Minnesota county’s jurisdiction. This step comes after a 17-month grassroots organizing campaign by county residents calling for a ban, led by members of the Land Stewardship Project (LSP).
For years, Winona County has been heavily targeted by the oil, gas and frac sand industry’s attempts to extract silica sand for use in hydraulic fracturing. Thousands of residents have opposed frac sand development due to its harmful impacts on the land, as well as on public health, safety and quality of life in local communities.
In June 2015, LSP members and supporters from across the county, many from neighborhoods that began fighting frac sand proposals several years earlier, set a goal of banning the industry outright, working to get Winona County to become the first county to do so.
“We felt a ban was needed for the health and well-being of people and the environment,” said Warren Township resident Barb Nelson. “And the vast majority of residents in the county agreed. I hope other counties are encouraged by the step we’ve taken to take a firm stand against the frac sand industry.”
During Winona County’s process of considering the ban this summer and fall, an average of 80 percent of public comments received were in favor of the ban.
“The bluffs here are full of the kind of sand this industry wants,” said Joe Morse of Wilson Township. “We’ve seen what’s happened where the frac sand industry operates in Wisconsin — bluffs are leveled and the landscape is destroyed. Winona County residents love the natural beauty of this land and want to protect it.”
Members of LSP’s Winona County Organizing Committee applauded the passage of the ban as a major victory for people and the land and as an example of local democracy at its best.
“I feel grateful we have a County Board with the wisdom to listen to the people they were elected to serve, and make the decision to prioritize public health and safety over the profit of a few,” said Wiscoy Township resident Kelley Stanage.
The County Board passed the ban by a 3-2 vote in the form of an amendment to Winona County’s existing zoning ordinance. It prohibits any new operations for the production of industrial minerals, including the silica sand used in hydraulic fracturing.
“I am relieved that we have protected our water and our vulnerable populations from frac sand operations,” said Lynnea Pfohl, a resident of Homer Township. “As a mother of young children, it’s also important to me that we were able to take this step locally towards tackling climate change, by putting our sand off limits for oil and gas production.”
While the overwhelming majority of public input from Winona County residents consistently favored the ban, the measure was fiercely opposed by the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council and other representatives of the frac sand industry.
“The story here is one of local residents taking on outside corporate interests bent on exploiting our communities and the land,” said LSP organizer Johanna Rupprecht. In Winona County, we’ve shown that people power can defeat corporate power. People can win when we organize and work together.”
Congratulations to the many citizens in Winona County who worked so long to protect what they cherish.
Photo: A frac sand mine.
If you appreciate our posts and original analysis, you can mail contributions (payable to Sally Jo Sorensen, 33166 770th Ave, Ortonville, MN 56278) or use the paypal button in the upper right hand corner of this post.
Or you can contribute via this link to paypal; use email sally.jo.sorensen at gmail.com as recipient.