In a four to three vote, the Winona City Planning Commission has decided to ask the City Council to recommend a generic environmental impact statement (EIS) on the frac sand business. Commissioner Pamela Eyden, who made the request, said a generic EIS would help city leaders better understand the capacity of the industry in Winona and encompass all frac sand findings into one document, detailing the positives and negatives, and assisting in future decision-making.
“I’m concerned we don’t have a full overview of all of this or have any idea of what could be coming our way,” she said.
Commissioners discussed Monday the possibility of adding new language to the city’s mining code that would require all new frac sand operations wishing to secure a conditional use permit (CUP) to compare the application with an environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) checklist in a pre-application review.
In the proposed language, planning department staff would review all new CUP applications using the existing EAW checklist. If the application triggers one or more of the criteria, it will be brought before the Planning Commission, and potentially the City Council. If the application is predicted to produce a significant environmental impact, the council can then order an EAW be completed before approving the CUP.
Citizens Against Silica Sand Mining (CASM) representative Marie Kovecsi said while requiring the submission of an EAW as a pre-application review is a step in the right direction, a generic EIS would be more suitable.
“We are offering that the generic EIS is a more reasonable approach and will provide better guidelines and integrated research and in the end, be more useful in providing more information to the people of Winona, city planners and regulatory people,” Kovecsi said.
Commissioner LaVerne Olson, representing the opposition, said if too many restrictions are placed on the industry, business would never move forward.
“Sooner or later we are going to regret all the regulations,” Olson said. “This is just another layer upon layer of regulations and ordinances that you are forcing these people to adhere to. Any new business or development is going to have a difficult time moving forward.”