by EMILY BUSS
and SARAH SQUIRES
Frac sand regulations and permitting processes across the region are moving along. The city of Winona is poised to take a final vote on new sand business regulations, while Winona County is reaching the end of the first environmental review process for two proposed mines.
City of Winona
The Winona City Council will vote on the final draft of silica sand ordinances Monday, including the four regulations the council recently amended.
The city planning commission studied the silica sand industry for the past seven months during a one-year moratorium and compiled a 38-page document of recommendations in order to provide city leaders with direction on how to regulate the industry in the future.
At a meeting in late January, the council discussed concerns regarding the changes to the city’s mining ordinance, moisture testing, road wear, and structural setback language, and made several amendments. The changes are:
• No part of an extraction operation can be located within 2,000 feet of a residential district, previously 1000 feet.
• Hours of operation at all mines within city limits will be from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., previously 10 p.m.
• Stockpiled silica sand and other materials must maintain a moisture level of 2.5 percent at all times, previously 1.5 percent
• All structures housing processing equipment or stockpiles must be located a minimum of 500 feet from a residential property, previously 200 feet
If the council adopts the four amendments, they will become part of the final document of recommendations for the ordinance change.
Possible additional city amendments
During the last city council meeting, members raised questions regarding future air quality monitoring events and performance standards, and directed city planning staff to conduct a more in-depth investigation of the topics.
In recent discussions with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), Assistant City Planner Carlos Espinosa has determined that in order to establish concrete findings relating to ambient air quality, monitoring must be conducted for a minimum of one year. Monitors would be set up on property lines of operations and samples would be taken for 24 hours every six days.
Espinosa said the monitoring would be conducted by a consultant experienced in air quality studies, and he estimated the monitoring to cost around $45,000 per site.
At the request of council members Pam Eyden and Gerry Krage, Espinosa also investigated a more thorough way of preventing stockpiled silica sand from becoming airborne.
“I think the stockpiles should be covered before the operation starts so that [the silica sand] is covered from the very beginning,” Krage said. “To do nothing is to just wait for complaints to happen.”
Espinosa said language requiring a stockpile to maintain a constant moisture level of 2.5 percent will alleviate any rogue particulate matter, but he will introduce a change in language that the council will discuss.
The proposed language states that “all frac sand stockpiles shall be watered regularly to prevent surface areas from drying out and becoming susceptible to wind erosion.” The proposed language also says that any silica sand stockpile that has not been disturbed for more than one week must be covered with a woven “geotextile with a grab tensile strength of not less than 250 pounds.”
If the council agrees with the proposed language, it will be added to the performance standards section of city code.
The Winona City Council meeting will be Monday, February 4, at 6:30 p.m. in Council Chambers of City Hall.
The Winona County Board will set a date for a public hearing when residents will have the chance to comment on an environmental review process for two proposed mines in Saratoga Township.
The Yoder and Dabelstein mines have both been reviewed through an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) process. The EAW review is meant to assist county leaders in determining whether the mines should be subject to a more substantial environmental study called an Environmental Impact Statement. Citizens have the chance to provide written comment on the EAW studies until February 6.
Following that deadline, commissioners will accept additional public comment during a public hearing, expected in March.