The Buffalo County Zoning Committee unanimously voted to extend the county's temporary hold on new frac sand facilities by another six months, asking that more time be given to study the growing sand mine industry.
That recommendation is expected to be sent to the Buffalo County Board for a final vote on October 16, following committee revisions to the proposed new moratorium ordinance on October 5. The moratorium ordinance would require that the current hold on new sand facilities, set to expire on October 31, continue through April of 2013.
During the committee meeting last week, county residents weighed in on the question of whether the moratorium should be allowed to expire. Since the hold on new mine facilities was installed in March, the committee has been studying regulations for the industry, leaning on several reports from county departments on health, safety and welfare issues associated with large scale mine development. At least one of those reports -- from the health and human services department -- asked that the moratorium be extended for further study.
"I would hope that you'd have the diligence and respect for the citizens of this county to take the time to do it right," said one county resident in attendance in reference to the work to tailor regulations for the relatively new industry. Several audience members asked that the moratorium be extended so that county leaders could both study the cumulative impact of multiple mine developments, as well as set a limit for how many frac sand mines might be acceptable for the rural area. Others wanted to ensure that county standards for reclamation plans would include strict language about the way that land must be cared for after mining is completed, including soil coverage and other measures that would allow it to return to agricultural use in most instances.
Prior to the moratorium, six mines were granted permits in Buffalo County, and one is currently hauling sand. Committee member Dennis Youngbauer said extending the moratorium would allow time for the approved mines to begin to operate, and give county leaders an opportunity to observe any effects they might have on roads, as well as providing some time for staff to collect baseline data on air quality in areas adjacent to some of the proposed sites.
"It's tearing our county apart," said Youngbauer of the controversy surrounding the frac sand industry. "What is the impact going to be? [If we extend the moratorium], we will be able to see it."
Committee member James Ziegeweid stated he had seen the frustration on both sides of the frac sand debate following previous meetings and hearings held under the current ordinance process, and said that process is flawed. He advocated for a new mine application specific to the industry which would clarify what information needed to be provided and about proposed new mines and related facilities up front and would allow for a smoother process. Perhaps smaller mine proposals could go through a shorter application process, said Ziegeweid, adding that a fix to the way these applications are handled could remove redundancy and help developers and the public know what to expect.