Winona City Council said "yes" Monday night to air quality monitoring and "no" to a moratorium extension on the frac sand industry. Through consensus rather than a formal vote, council members told city staff to develop an air quality monitoring ordinance for silica dust. A move to extend the city's frac sand moratorium failed to pass.
The council was in agreement that state legislators, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the Minnesota Department of Health need to step up and decide what to do about frac sand. However, a majority of the council supported developing a local air quality ordinance for fear of inaction at the state level.
Council member Pam Eyden, who authored the air quality monitoring proposal with council member Gerry Krage, said that the city needs to start now to regulate air pollution from the frac sand industry because the MPCA will not be in a position to police silica dust for many months to come. "We need to do more to protect citizens from the toxins and carcinogens of frac sand," she said.
Council member Allyn Thurley agreed the city should be "proactive" to ensure air quality, and Mayor Mark Peterson said monitoring "makes sense."
Initially, Eyden and Krage asked city staff to include diesel soot in the ordinance, but Eyden and Krage agreed to drop that provision following objections from council member Paul Double.
Double mentioned the Clean Air Task Force's report ranking Winona County among one of the worst in the nation for diesel soot, arguing that diesel soot was an existing problem in Winona. "Is it not the responsibility of the council to protect the public?" Double asked. "If so, we need to know what those diesel particulates are and what the current source is. To lay those responsibilities at the feet of a new industry and say, 'We're going to make you responsible for something that is already happening,' is unfair."
Double supported the monitoring ordinance once its scope was narrowed to silica dust.
Council members Michelle Alexander and George Borzyskowski opposed the proposal, saying the city already had decided on how to regulate frac sand with the approval last month of the frac sand ordinance.
At Thurley's suggestion, the council opted against a formal vote on the matter and asked city staff "to deal with the issues as we have discussed them." City staff will now draft an ordinance and present it to the Planning Commission. From there it can be amended and recommended to the council for final approval. Thurley asked staff to "adopt the consensus of the council." While all of the council members agreed to that decision, including Borzyskowski and Alexander, the only consensus was that the council wants some kind of ordinance to be drafted. How the monitoring is going to be done, what equipment must be used, where it will be done, who will pay for it, who will maintain and check the monitors, and what the silica dust limit will be are all still unanswered questions. Eyden and Krage's proposal mentioned using a limit of three micrograms per cubic meter for airborne silica and having companies pay for and operate the monitors, but the council did not come to a consensus on those issues or discuss the details of monitoring.
It will be up to city staff to sketch the parameters of the proposed monitoring program. Thurley asked City Manager Judy Bodway if she would be able to direct staff based on the discussion of the council. She replied, "I think we have an idea of where you would like us to go."
Move to extend moratorium fails
No more moratorium after March 13, the council maintained. Krage and Eyden moved to extend the frac sand moratorium by 120 days in order to see what the state decides to do with the frac sand issue, but were shot down in a 2 -5 vote.
Eyden said she wanted an extension for "the same reasons the city requested the state to conduct a GEIS [Generic Environmental Impact Statement]. We simply do not know enough about the real health and environmental risks."
In a number of previous council meetings, City Attorney Chris Hood had told the council that a moratorium extension was not possible because of state law requiring immediate state or federal action to allow an extension. Hood had told the council that the discussions at the state level at that time were not "good enough" to allow the city to extend the moratorium. Since then, new frac sand restrictions have been introduced at the Capitol, but in Monday's council agenda, Hood cited state requirements that cities begin extension talks 30 days prior to the expiration of the existing moratorium.
Krage said that extending the moratorium despite those rules would be legally "bold but not irresponsible." He cited the city's decision to enact the 30 percent rule despite cautionary advice from the city attorney at the time.
The rest of the council members said they feared the move would risk litigation. "Knowingly violating state statute opens us up to lawsuits," Alexander argued.
Peterson said, "It would be irresponsible to extend the moratorium against [Hood's] advice."