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No answer on frac air monitoring quite yet (03/27/2013)
By Chris Rogers

The city is not much closer to a decision on how and whether to monitor air quality at frac sand facilities, following Winona Planning Commission's Monday night meeting. On March 4, a majority of City Council members voiced support for establishing monitoring requirements to ensure air quality while the city waits for the state to act, and asked the Planning Commission to examine the issue.

On Monday, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to refer the issue to the Citizens' Environmental Quality Committee (EQC), a subset of the Planning Commission.

Assistant City Planner Carlos Espinosa advised the commission, "It may be prudent to wait for the state, especially considering the results from Wisconsin are just going through." The "results in Wisconsin" are current air quality monitoring studies at frac sand facilities lead by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The commission concurred. "We could set this all up and if the state comes up with another number, are we going to go through this all again?" Wendy Davis asked.

Taking action before the state seemed to be the intent of the four City Council members who supported the monitoring requirements at the March 4 meeting. It will take months for the state to step in, council member Pam Eyden said; in the meantime, the city needs to do something soon to protect citizens. Council members Allyn Thurley, Gerry Krage, and Mayor Mark Peterson agreed that the city should be "proactive" on the issue of air quality. George Borzyskowski and Michelle Alexander dissented, saying monitoring would place an undue burden on businesses and that Winona is already a model for frac sand regulation. Paul Double agreed to refer the issue to the Planning Commission, saying that protecting citizens is the city's responsibility and that the city should pay for any monitoring.

The disconnect between the statements by certain City Council members and the Planning Commission regarding waiting for state action may be, in part, a result of the council's decision not to take a formal vote on the issue. Instead the City Council directed city staff to "deal with the issues as we have discussed them."

Even if the EQC were to reach a final decision in its first meeting it will take at least a few weeks for its proposal to come before the City Council. Espinosa said the EQC's discussion will not begin with specific draft proposal from city staff for the committee to approve, amend, or reject, but rather will begin with an open discussion about the best way to move forward. The number of meetings that will require,"all depends on how long they want to talk," Espinosa said. Once the EQC makes a recommendation, it will be provided first to the Planning Commission and, if approved, will be considered by the City Council.

Regardless of what city body develops a proposal on air quality monitoring, it is hard to imagine such a proposal could be done quickly. Air quality monitoring is complicated and technical. Which facilities will be required to have monitors, where the monitors will be placed, what kind of monitors will be used, what size particles are to be measured, and who will be analyzing the results are all important questions for any meaningful monitoring proposal.

The Planning Commission touched on several of those questions at the meeting; in order to make an thoughtful recommendation, Espinosa and the EQC have much work ahead of them.

Traffic Impact Analysis public hearing set

The Planning Commission also voted unanimously to set a public hearing date for an amendment to city code that would require a Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA) for all new frac sand facilities that would have more than 200 semi-truck trips per day, or if truck traffic from such facilities would make up more than 20 percent of the traffic on local streets.

Following a split vote at the March 4 City Council meeting, the Planning Commission will host a public hearing on the drafted TIA requirements and then decide whether to recommend the changes, amend them, reject them, or postpone discussion.

The commissioners did not express support or opposition to the requirements, though commission chair Craig Porter did voice concern that the city might not have legal authority to regulate trucks that haul a specific material. Espinosa said that the city of Red Wing has imposed a similar requirement, but that he will ask for an opinion from the city attorney.

The public hearing will be held at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, April 8, at City Hall.  


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