Silica sand mining moratorium in Winona County expires

Mt. Frac
A pile of silica sand dubbed "Mt. Frac" is part of what's fueled the concern among residents in Winona over the growing sand mining industry. And Winona County officials have taken a 3-month moratorium to study road impacts future mining might have around the country. That moratorium expires today.
MPR Photo/Elizabeth Baier

Winona County's three-month moratorium on silica sand mining expires today and officials there expect to receive permit applications for new operations as early as mid-week.

The county has the shortest of nine local moratoriums in southeastern Minnesota that have temporarily blocked silica sand mining in the region.

In the last three months, county officials have put together an application packet for prospective applicants, developed criteria for environmental impact studies and approved a road-use agreement that makes mining companies pay for road damages, said Jason Gilman, director of Winona County's Planning and Enviornmental Services.

"I think the county has arrived at a reasonable solution to address the public concerns and also provide a predictable format for the prospective applicants," Gilman said.

County officials expect to receive a handful of permit applications in the coming days, he said.

"The reason we had to take some time to study the sand mining is that it was noticeably a change from what we've seen in historic industrial, aggregate operations, in terms of intensity, of potential scope and size of the facilities," Gilman said.

Southern Minnesota is particularly strategic for its deposits of silica sand, which is used to extract fuel and gas from underground rock, in the process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.