The Winona City Planning Commission postponed approving the final draft of its comprehensive study of the frac sand industry Monday, and asked planning staff to investigate more thoroughly the topic of air quality.
The commission first looked at air quality in June as part of the one-year frac sand moratorium, and recommended all frac sand operations conduct weekly tests of sand moisture levels. The tests would determine the amount of crystalline silica entering the air. However, several citizens expressed concern about the efficacy of the tests.
“We contend that this action item does not fully address citizen concerns regarding ambient air quality,” said Winona Area Citizens Concerned About Sand Mining representative Marie Kovecsi.
Fountain City resident Jeff Faulk agreed with Kovecsi and expressed the need for the City of Winona to invest in a state-of-the-art monitoring system that would detect high levels of silica particulates.
“Keeping the sand wet will not solve all the problems,” Faulk said. “How do you know what does or doesn’t leave the site? What happens in Winona could affect the surrounding areas.”
Commissioner Wendy Davis agreed with the installation of a temporary monitoring system. Davis said the city should take the time to administer an ambient air quality test to provide city officials with baseline data at each sand washing and processing site.
Commission chair Craig Porter didn't agree. “Activity performed here in Winona regarding transportation and handling of frac sand is not a problem,” Porter said. “When there is a generally accepted and acknowledged procedure on how to effectively measure ambient air, we’ll go for it. And if we find out it exceeds the hazardous limit, I’ll be the first person to shut it down.”
Assistant City Planner Carlos Espinosa will investigate a portable air monitoring device that could be obtained from the Minnesota Department of Health.
The 37 pages of the comprehensive frac sand study will be revised and revisited during the next City Planning Commission meeting on November 26. The public hearing regarding the draft will be held at a later date, and the final draft will be sent to on to the Winona City Council for approval in December.
Second roundtable discussion
The City Planning Commission will hold a second public roundtable discussion next month to discuss what the commission has accomplished since August. A September 12 public roundtable drew very few attendees. The roundtable discussion will be held Monday, November 5 at 4:30 p.m. in the Wenonah Room at City Hall.