After six months of intensive study of the frac sand industry, during the city’s one-year moratorium on the business, the Winona City Planning Commission placed the stamp of approval on a final draft of recommendations Monday. The commission was given the task of studying the controversial industry in early May and since then has investigated issues relating to habitat, wetland, quality of life, air quality, water permitting, environmental review, traffic impact, and road wear.
Commissioners discussed four action items during Monday’s meeting to answer lingering questions regarding road wear and air quality.
The first proposed change in the mining ordinance language allows sand operations to utilize as many trucks as needed, but requires that an operation that has the potential to generate more than 200 truck trips per day submit a traffic impact analysis (TIA). Commissioners voted 5-1 in favor of the proposed language change, but commissioner Brian Buelow, who cast the dissenting vote, said he was not in favor of this language when it came to the commission the first time in August and still opposes it.
In another 5-1 vote, the commission approved the second action item, which defines appropriate moisture levels of stockpiled sand as at or above 1.5 percent moisture at all times. Previously, it was recommended that all stockpiled sand contain at least 3 percent moisture. However, after talking with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Espinosa said a more reasonable moisture level for operators would be 1.5 percent.
While the new language also states that air quality monitoring at sand sites is not required, operators must conduct a moisture level test once a week. Commissioner Buelow said once a week wasn’t often enough.
“Windy weather can change the condition of that sand pretty quickly and checking for adequate moisture levels once a week doesn’t seem enough,” Buelow said.
Commission Chair Craig Porter pointed out that existing ordinance language prohibits a sand operation from producing hazardous emissions at the risk of being fined, and said he places his trust in this effectiveness of the ordinance.
A unanimous vote to approve the third action item was made, placing language into the mining code that requires all structures containing processing equipment and stockpiles to be located a minimum of 200 feet from any residential property.
The final action item was approved in another 5-1 vote, with commissioner Buelow dissenting. The approved proposal addresses road wear and defines a heavy commercial vehicle as one weighing more than 33,000 lb. (rather than 26,000 lb. as previously defined). The scope of the TIA is also changed to apply to any road, other than a designated truck route, that is used between the operation and the nearest truck route. Commissioner Buelow said the scope should be widened.
“Because we only look at the 200 trucks per day and the non-truck routes, we are missing a lot of trucks that are going through residential streets that are truck routes,” Buelow explained. “I think we should include the 200 trucks per day starting at the city limits and include all the roads to the destination. I think it’s a factor that comes down to quality of life.”
However, Commissioner James Gromek said it would be unfair to “pick on” an industry that is using a designated truck route legally, even if it goes through a residential area.
After discussing the four action items, commissioners, in yet another 5-1 vote, approved the changes and agreed to send the final draft of recommendations to a public hearing. Following the public hearing, the draft will be forwarded to the Winona City Council for final approval. If the council decides to veto the recommendations, the frac sand industry in Winona will rely on regulations provided in the language of the current conditional use permits.
The comprehensive draft will be presented during a Planning Commission public hearing set for December 10 at 4:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall.