Houston County could permanently ban new frac sand mining

Mt. Frac
A pile of silica sand in Winona, Minn. in 2012.
MPR Photo/Elizabeth Baier, file

Officials in Houston County in southeastern Minnesota are considering permanently banning new frac sand mining.

County commissioners this week unanimously extended a moratorium on new sand mining through March 2015. County commissioners also sent a letter to state officials asking for guidance on the potential permanent ban.

Houston County is the first county weighing a permanent ban since legislation took effect giving local governments more options to regulate frac sand mining.

Commissioner Justin Zmyewski said residents are concerned about the potential for too much truck traffic from mining activities, as well as environmental impacts on trout streams and other natural features that make the region unique.

"We're very concerned. Our environment can't handle it, our infrastructure can't handle it, our tax base can't necessarily handle it," he said. "So the board is very much looking at the potential for a ban. We'll err on the side of caution. And there's plenty of places in the United States that are digging sand. We just don't know that Houston County is the most appropriate place to do so."

Zmyewski said county officials are confident they could make a case for a ban as the drawbacks of allowing smaller sand pits to expand their operations far outweigh the benefits.

He said truck traffic on county roads is a major concern, particularly as the county's small tax base wouldn't be able to raise the money needed to keep up with repairs.

"There's a lot of information that we don't have or that's not available " Zmyewski said. "We would like to just slow down. This is an industry that if it is a good, bona fide industry, it'll be here for years to come. We don't want to rush anything and get caught behind the eight ball 10 years from now and say, 'boy, we really shouldn't have done that.'"

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