The final silica sand draft of recommendations is one step closer to becoming city ordinance. After amending and approving all four action items on Tuesday, the Winona City Council approved the draft for a second reading.
The city planning commission spent the last seven months studying the controversial silica sand industry, during the city’s one-year emergency moratorium, in order to provide city leaders with direction on how to regulate the industry in the future.
After concerns were raised at recent planning commission meetings regarding the city’s mining ordinance, moisture testing, road wear, and structural setback language, commissioners recommended several changes that the council discussed during a public hearing.
Area citizens and industry workers filled the council chambers to adress the final draft of frac sand recommendations and more than a dozen people spoke against the proposed recommendations.
“In the city’s [comprehensive] plan, it indicates a support for commodities such as frac sand. I think that is quite a stretch,” said former Winona Heritage Preservation Commission member Greg Gaut. “However, the report goes on with no other mention of frac sand. I don’t see that being part of Winona’s plan for the future.”
Despite pressure from audience members to send all four action items back for more study, council members both amended and approved all four items.
The council tackled the mining ordinance after a lengthy public hearing and, at the request of new council member Pamela Eyden, amended the extraction operation language to be located a minimum of 2,000 feet from a residential district, previously 1,000 feet.
Another change in the mining ordinance language requested by Eyden was to shorten the hours of operation at a mine within city limits: from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m., previously 10 p.m.
The council then voted unanimously to introduce the amendments into the mining ordinance language.
Next, the council discussed moisture testing, a topic that has been hotly debated since July 2012, when the city planning commission first began discussing air quality.
The city planning commission recommended to the council that moisture levels for stockpiled material be reduced from 4 percent to 1.5 percent, saying that the lower level was in line with Minnesota Pollution Control Agency standards. However, Fountain City resident Jeff Falk said there is no such standard.
“The [Minnesota Pollution Control Agency] said there has been no research of off-site air quality effects done,” he explained. “So, to be referring to the agency for evidence for a standard is silly because they have nothing to base it on.”
Winona resident Steve Schild also spoke on the topic of air quality and said a recent discussion with a Mayo Clinic medical doctor proved there were still many unanswered questions about the health hazards related to silica sand.
“[The doctor] said that mining has never been done at the volume it is being done today,” Schild said. “He said with a lack of standards, we are flying blind. We need a regional study to look at the cumulative effects this industry could have on our city.”
Council member Eyden questioned why the 1.5 percent was recommended as the standard, calling it the “bare minimum.” Eyden then recommended that stockpiles have a minimum moisture level of 2.5 percent at all times.
A 4-3 vote passed the higher moisture level, with council members Paul Double, George Borzyskowski, and Michelle Alexander casting the three opposing votes.
The third item on the agenda was the introduction of recommendations of structural setbacks in the existing CUP ordinance. In current language, the setback for stockpiles or structures containing processing equipment was to be a minimum of 200 feet from a residential property.
Winona Assistant City Planner Carlos Espinosa said the setback was in line with residential properties adjacent to the M2, or manufacturing district, such as scrap yards, and rail and freight lines. However council member Eyden recommended a 500-foot setback.
“That is just reasonable,” Eyden said.
The council then voted unanimously to introduce the amendment into the existing sand CUP ordinance.
Finally, the council discussed the recommendation pertaining to transportation and road wear. The city planning commission’s recommendation was to allow an operation to utilize as many trucks as they needed, but to require a traffic impact analysis (TIA) if the operation has the potential to produce more than 200 heavy vehicle trips per day.
The recommendation also incorporated language that the TIA would only be required for operations that would use non truck route roads within city limits.
Council member Double said “it would be ridiculous to charge trucks for using designated truck routes and state roads.”
The council voted 6-1 to approve language stating a TIA will be required if an operation produces more than 200 heavy vehicle trips per day. Eyden cast the dissenting vote.
With all four action items approved and incorporated into the final draft of recommendations, the document will be presented during a second reading sometime in February, where council members will give final motions.
If the council adopts the final draft of silica sand recommendations, the approved regulations will become city code. However, if the council denies the draft, the frac sand industry in Winona will rely solely on the stipulations provided in current CUP language.