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  Thursday January 29th, 2015    

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Citizen group's air quality plan on hold (08/28/2013)
By Chris Rogers
The Winona Planning Commission delayed consideration of the Winona Citizens' Environmental Quality Committee's (CEQC) call for immediate air quality monitoring of silica dust and diesel fumes. "Air quality monitoring along truck routes should start now" and the city should begin monitoring silica dust "if action to commence monitoring is not immediately available form the MPCA [Minnesota Pollution Control Agency]," the CEQC urged the city.

The MPCA indicated that it is over a year away from having clear guidelines for monitoring ambient silica dust, Assistant City Planner Carlos Espinosa told commissioners at a Monday evening meeting. Therefore, the commission should delay the CEQC's recommendation until an MPCA representative can come to a planning commission meeting to "help provide options for moving forward," Espinosa recommended on behalf of city staff.

The commission took up Espinosa's suggestion. "If they're not going to figure anything out for two years, maybe they can give us some ideas of what to do in the meantime," said commissioner Wendy Davis about the MPCA.

Commission chair Craig Porter said that non-standardized testing is "a waste of money and resources and could be invalidated easily." Commissioner LaVerne Olson concurred, "Until the state establishes rules, regulations, and standards that have to be met, anything we could do could very well be a waste of money. So I prefer to wait until the state gets their ducks in order, and we know what the requirements will be and we can act accordingly."

Porter added that while he shared concerns about health risks from the frac sand industry in general, "I don't think that the activities that are going to take place in Winona are going to be a risk. I really don't."

CEQC members stressed concerns about increased diesel fumes created by the hundreds of truck trips that new area mines will soon bring to Winona, and urged the city to begin monitoring for those airborne particles. Federal standards and protocols for that sort of monitoring do exist now, they have pointed out.

Acting now to begin baseline monitoring is important because "you can't compare if you don't have a 'before' number," said CEQC member and Winona State University professor John Nosek.

Audible scoffs came from the audience as the commission voted unanimously to wait for a meeting with the MPCA. Some citizens and CEQC members have accused city staff and commissioners of repeated, intentional delays and "foot-dragging." City staff decided to delay the agenda item for further study an extra two weeks prior to Monday's meeting. The issue has been in and in-between committees since March, when the City Council called for a "proactive" monitoring proposal rather than waiting for state action.

CEQC member Bea Hoffman said that this most recent delay was "disappointing." She added, "My hope is that the City Council will see the importance of collecting baseline data on crystalline silica dust and diesel fumes so that we can make future comparisons."

In an interview, Espinosa explained that he did not know whether the MPCA would provide new information or suggestions, but, "I just think everyone would be a lot more comfortable having heard from a representative from the MPCA." Espinosa said he hoped a meeting could be arranged in September.

Any proposal forwarded to the City Council is likely to occur after the state assembles its Silica Sand Technical Assistance Team (SSTAT) on October 1. The SSTAT is a group made up of state agency staff that will offer recommendations to local governments on handling frac sand issues. City staff have suggested in previous discussions that the city appeal to the SSTAT for advice. The SSTAT advice is binding; any local government that does not follow its recommendations must provide legal rationale for its decision. 


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