by Sarah Squires
Despite claims from city officials that Winona is coordinating and cooperating its efforts to examine the sand mining issue with the county, Winona leaders have scheduled a meeting Tuesday night to discuss blasting that will overlap the Winona County Board’s public hearing on a potential new mine moratorium.
The council will hold a session at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to hear a presentation from a neighborhood group about concerns over blasting at the Biesanz Stone Company. At 6 p.m., the Winona County Board will hold a public hearing at the Winona Middle School Auditorium to hear comments about a potential moratorium on new mine permits.
The county hearing has been scheduled for weeks, and the city meeting was just announced on Wednesday. At previous meetings on both city blasting and the potential for a county moratorium, many of the same residents have been at the table, posing a scheduling issue for both meetings to occur during the same evening. When Interim City Manager Judy Bodway was contacted about the conflict, an e-mail message from a staff person indicated that although she was aware of the overlap in meetings, “the city will not be rescheduling at this time.”
The Biesanz operation, formerly owned by the Biesanz family, was grandfathered into the city as a permitted use with the area was annexed decades ago. While blasting has not occurred much in recent years, over the past several months frequent blasting has spurred concern from neighbors, some claiming the blasts have already damaged homes and broken glass.
The increase in blasting at the quarry is in part due to the rise in demand for frac sand, a rounded, large type of grain used in a process called hydraulic fracturing. The sand is mixed with water and chemicals and blasted into shale rock formations deep underground. The process, used in places like North Dakota and Texas, helps hold fractures in the rock open, allowing for more oil and natural gas to be harvested.