With the Republican gubernatorial primary less than a month away, the campaigns are departing from Gaylord B. Parkinson's 11th Commandment for endorsement battles as they try to distinguish their brand for those likely to cast ballots in the August 12 vote.
The latest dig at the campaign of endorsed Johnson-Kuisle ticket comes from the Zellers camp, after the Caledonia Argus published an interview with Johnson's running mate Bill Kuisle, in which Kuisle discussed continuing a frac sand mining moratorium. The Zellers campaign issued a press release rebuking the comments in the Argus, while promoting "responsible mining"; the Johnson campaign fired back with a press release of its own, claiming that Kuisle was addressing a local moratorium, while expressing Johnson's support for local control over mining and responsible environmental review.
So beyond the spin war, what happened in Caledonia?
General manager Daniel McGonigle asked about frac sand mining, Republican-endorsed candidate for lieutenant governor stops by Argus offices:
Frac sand mining
“I’ve followed the issue a little bit in the papers,” said Kuisle, a farmer of 160 acres between Stewart and Rochester. “You can’t be an expert on every issue, but I think you’ve got to look at all sides. That is a tough one.”
He added: “I think the moratorium, give it six months or a year, to study the issue is a good thing. You need to determine what you hope to protect. Is it air pollution, trout streams, transportation?
“I think one of the big things is that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the DNR, all these groups, there needs to be some coordination between them,” Kuisle said.
He said that the America has benefited from having the increased oil production that has taken place in western North Dakota.
“But there are several things to consider with gaining our independence from foreign oil.
“We need to make sure it’s being done right,” he said. “You want the least amount of environmental damage as possible.”
He continued that consideration needs to be given to the roads and transporting the sands to the railways.
“You want that to be as close a possible,” he said. “The roads are dangerous enough down here in this part of the state; you don’t want to add to that.”
Caledonia is county seat of Houston County, in the heart of silica sand deposits that have provoked much conflict over frac sand mining; in February, the Argus reported that Houston County commissioners unanimously voted to extend a county moratorium until March 2015.
Given that the article is structured by issue, rather than question, Bluestem contacted general manager and editor Daniel McGonigle about the context in which Kuisle made his comment. He emailed us this statement:
"Anyone who has ever interviewed a politician knows that they come to the media with talking points. Mr. Kuisle and the Johnson campaign wanted to discuss things like Obamacare and of course the staple of 'creating jobs.' I wanted to see where he stood on issues more important to the readers of Houston County, the biggest of which is Frac Sand Mining. To be honest, there were no talking points prepared and he tried to respond to the question without the benefit of having been coached by any political advisor, in my opinion. His opponents, who statewide haven't mentioned the issue of frac sand mining or if so only marginally, then pounce on the comments. Typical political spin. I believe Mr Kuisle was speaking about allowing the local authorities time to understand all sides of the issue. As has been done so many times in the political arena, someone's words are being used against them and manipulated to meet their ends. My take away from the interview was any politician who visits a particular area of the state when they are running for a state wide office should fully understand the issues important to the region and come in better prepared...or don't bother scheduling an interview with the paper."
Since Bluestem's editor was taught by her beloved high school journalism teacher at St. Peter High to check out one's own mother's statements of affection, we decided to check that out--although we heartily recommend his pro tip to candidates to fully understand the issues important to a region and come prepared.
Bluestem also would like bloggers writing about industrial sand mining to treat the issue on its own terms, rather than as a proxy for the Range war over copper mining, but in thir rush to read and publish dueling press releases, we fully understand that that might be asking a bit much of their talents.
What have the candidates said about frac sand mining?
Here's what we've found for prior statements from the Republican gubernatorial candidates and Governor Dayton's most recent iteration in Houston County.
In some ways, Goodhue County was Ground Zero for frac sand mining protests when residents of Hay Creek Township discovered that they might become the next Wisconsin as far as sand mining goes. At one point, the former mayor of Red Wing Denis Egan resigned under public pressure when he took a job lobbying for the newly formed state industrial sand council.
On July 13, 2014, the Red Eagle Republican's Danielle Killer reported in Johnson aiming for November:
•Silica sand mining: “I’m always going to lean toward local control on issues like that, so I would say that there should be little state involvement,” Johnson said, adding sand mining should be done in an environmentally safe way and the state is part of enforcing that.
In Johnson's statement responding to Zellers, he said:
Some campaigns are saying that Jeff Johnson wants to impose a statewide moratorium on mining for silica sand.
That isn’t true. When Bill Kuisle visited Caledonia, he said that if local governments wanted to put a temporary moratorium on mining to study the environmental impact, that would be their prerogative.
Neither Bill nor I believe that it is the role of the state to force any local government to change zoning regulations against its will or issue permits that its citizens oppose. The state government should encourage economic development, and in my administration we will ensure that the environmental review process is done in a complete and expeditious way. If the mining can be done in a responsible manner then the permits should be issued.
Local governments can and do have a say in these matters, and a Johnson Administration will not impose its will on local citizens making decisions as long as those decisions are legal under state law and the Minnesota Constitution.
That's consistent with the earlier statement.
Bluestem found no statements prior to the Argus article by Republican gubernatorial challenger and investment banker Scott Honour on silica sand mining or frac sand mining, using both google and Nexis All-News database. We found no statements about sand mining by Karin Housley on the campaign trial. Both appear focused on cooper mining/PolyMet as a distinct issue.
However, Housley did take a recorded vote on the issue last year. Senator Housley voted no on SF786: Frac sand mining moratorium when it came before the Senate State and Local Government Committee on March 6, 2013, according to a page about the vote on Conservation Minnesota's website. The bill never made it to the floor when a compromise was reached by the legislators, lobbyists and the administration; a moratorium was not part of the deal, but local control remained an important piece of the compromise, MPR reported.
Gubernatorial challenger and former Republican House minority leader Marty Seifert also addressed sand mining when he visited Southeast Minnesota in June. In Seifert, running for governor, stops in Winona Thursday, Tesla Mitchell reports:
Although it wasn’t on his list of talking points, when asked how he felt about frac sand mining — he has openly supported mining — Seifert said it’s copper nickel mining in northern Minnesota he’s focused on but said generally he’s “supportive of private property rights and for people to use God’s resources in a responsible way.”
We're not sure what that means about the issue of local control, as it' Seifert's job to explain himself. He did provide one more qualifying sentence to the Caledonia Argus during an April visit reported in the Argus article, Gubernatorial candidate visits Caledonia:
In the topic of frac sand, Seifert said, “Generally, I think God gave us natural resources to use properly. I just think you have to make sure you do it right while respecting your neighbors.” Much like mining in northern Minnesota, Seifert said he is confident there is a responsible way to utilize the state’s resources.
Again, Seifert's a bit short on the details, and neither article makes Seifert seem hip to the nuances of the regional issue.
The Red Wing Republican Eagle article, Seifert talks rural, local issues such as sand, is now behind the paper's archive paywall, but we'll see if friends in Red Wing can dig out their old copies of the paper for details. He may have addressed specifics there; the article is not in the Nexis database.
UPDATE: A subscriber in Red Wing sent us a complete copy of the Republican Eagle article, Seifert talks rural, local issues such as sand. Here's the paragraph about sand mining:
He also touched on silica sand mining in Minnesota, saying he would not be in favor of a statewide moratorium on the practice. He said he generally would support the mining operations, as long as they are done properly and don't harm the environment or area.
That does clarify things someone.
Former Minnesota House speaker and gubernatorial primary challenger Kurt Zellers played gotcha with Kuisle's comments in the Argus, releasing this statement:
In response to a July 17th article in the Caledonia Argus (http://bit.ly/UdbeSF), candidate for governor Kurt Zellers issued the following statement:
“I was surprised to read today’s article in the Caldonia Argus, in which Jeff Johnson’s Lt. Governor pick Bill Kuisle voiced his support for a sand fracking moratorium.
“The Dayton administration has stood in the way of responsible mining for far too long,” continued Zellers. “Our next governor cannot ignore or continue to delay the economic benefits of responsible mining and sand fracking. Putting a moratorium on sand fracking will cost hardworking Minnesotans thousands of jobs.”
Prior to the pounce, Zellers did not bring up the issue that we can find. At least not directly.
Zellers and the Tiller Corporation
While Zellers hasn't made sand mining an issue in the race until now, a December 12, 2013, press release announcing the formation of his campaign's finance committee included the following names:
Chad Sauer, Tiller Corp.
Gary Sauer, CEO, Tiller Corp.
Steve Sauer, VP, Tiller Corp.
The Tiller Corporation, headquartered in Maple Grove, Minnesota (in Zellers' district), describes itself on its home page:
Tiller Corporation is the holding company for a family of companies dedicated to providing high quality aggregates, hot mix asphalt, and industrial sands to the construction and energy industries. We are proud of our rich history of providing high quality materials and being a steward of the community and the environment. We serve our customers through a series of convenient sites located throughout the Twin Cities metropolitan market. Our divisions include: ...
Barton Industrial Sands, LLC mines and processes industrial sands for the petroleum and natural gas extraction industries.
According to records online at the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, individuals employed by the Tiller Corp. gave the Zellers campaign for Governor a total of four contributions for a total of $3000. We are unable to determine how much the Sauers have raised for the Zellers' campaign committee. Perhaps it's the thought that counts.
Konwledge of this financial connection between the Zellers campaign and frac sand money may cause troubles for Zellers among voters in conservative areas where protests against frac sand operations have not followed traditional partisan lines: Goodhue County, Houston County, Winona County and most recently Chisago County, where North Branch residents are up in arms about a proposed Superior Silica Sands transloading operation that will come to a city with an existing facility with a trobuled past
That latter operation is owned by the Tiller Corporation. Typical of past coverage? KARE 11 reported in MN town voices opposition to frac sand operation:
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is investigating a company that did not have the necessary permits when it started construction on a silica sand processing plant in Harris. The building is now almost completed.
The plant, which is owned by Tiller Corporation, got the okay from the City of North Branch last year to build the plant, but did not have the proper environmental paper work to move forward. The company says it was an honest mistake. . . .
Tiller Corporation was fined in January 2014 by the state of Wisconsin, the Star Tribune reported in Two mining companies fined for St. Croix River spill:
Two Minnesota companies have been fined for neglecting a massive sand mine spill that flowed into the St. Croix River for five days before being discovered by a hiker.
Interstate Energy Partners, LLC, of Plymouth and Tiller Corporation of Maple Grove were ordered to pay a total of $80,000 for not maintaining necessary dikes and berms in violation of Wisconsin law. The fine-grained sediment spilled from a frac sand mine in Grantsburg, Wis., in April 2012. . . .
The spill drew intense scrutiny from state and federal agencies charged with protecting the river from such mishaps. Ultrafine sand being prepared for oil drilling was washed through a flimsy berm into a nearby creek that funneled it to the St. Croix River. The sand, described as the color of milk in coffee and not native to the river, possibly smothered sensitive fish spawning areas and mussel beds, conservationists have said.
Bluestem suspects that many Minnesotans won't want the piper for whom Tiller is calling the tune.
“During the 2013 Legislative Session, Governor Dayton strongly supported a moratorium on frac sand mining in southeastern Minnesota. Unfortunately, that proposal was not supported by the Minnesota Legislature. Legal Counsel has advised that, absent legislative enactment of the moratorium, the Governor lacks the authority to unilaterally impose his own moratorium.
"However, local jurisdictions, such as counties, cities, and townships, have authority under existing Minnesota Statutes to declare moratoriums on frac sand mining and processing within their jurisdictions. Citizens living in those areas should urge those local officials to enact the measures they favor.
"Last year's law did greatly strengthen state agencies' authority to impose stringent requirements on any frac sand mining in that region. The Environmental Quality Board, DNR, and MPCA are all actively engaged in establishing and enforcing those restrictions.”
To be fair to the Zellers campaign, the Dayton campaign has received two contributions for a total of $1750.00 from Gaylen Ghylin, "Executive Vice President, Secretary and Chief Financial Officer of Tiller Corporation," according to a database keep by Businessweek.
If readers have access to other verifiable statements made by Republican gubernatorial candidates about frac sand mining prior to the Kuisle comments, or a post-April remark by Dayton, please send them our way. Please: no PolyMet proxy warfare at the expense of southern Minnesota.
Photo: Aerial view of a frac sand mine in Wisconsin. Photo by Jim Tittle. Used with permission.
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