Could a long-delayed proposal to monitor frac sand dust and diesel fumes in the city of Winona come to a decision soon? Recent offers of state funding for one monitoring effort seemed to enthuse city leaders at a Monday meeting. The Winona Planning Commission will meet with representatives from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) at the end of this month to discuss possible air quality monitoring for silica dust at frac sand facilities and for diesel fumes along truck routes. In a letter to the city, the MPCA agreed in concept to organize and fund monitoring of diesel fumes and to offer the city technical assistance in monitoring for microscopic dust outside of frac sand facilities. The MPCA did not offer to finance the dust monitoring at facilities and noted that it is typically paid for by the sand facility operators.
The commission’s brief discussion centered on the MPCA’s offer to finance and conduct monitoring of diesel fumes. Monitoring for silica dust at frac sand facilities was not discussed. Citizens who attended in support of the proposal were frustrated that the MPCA’s offer to oversee monitoring at facilities paid for by operators was not mentioned. Commission members received copies of the letter that included that offer, but in his summary of it to the commission, Assistant City Planner Carlos Espinosa did not mention it.
Espinosa’s summary led commission member James Gromek to say of the MPCA’s response, “So it’s on their dime.”
After the meeting, citizens expressed concern that Espinosa’s apparent glossing over of facility monitoring was intended to de-emphasize it. When asked about that sentiment, Espinosa pointed out that his written briefs include the proposals to monitor facilities and that he made a point to ask the MPCA about that type of monitoring in his questions to them.
The commission’s subcommittee, the Citizens’ Environmental Quality Committee (CEQC), recommended “immediate monitoring” of silica dust small enough to lodge in one’s lungs at all frac sand facilities and monitoring of diesel fumes in June. The CEQC proposal stemmed from a City Council directive in March to consider “proactive” air quality monitoring to take place before state action. CEQC members said that monitoring dust was important to determine whether a health risk existed and that monitoring diesel fumes immediately was crucial to establish a “before picture” of Winona air quality prior to a rush of truck traffic from recently permitted Wisconsin mines.
While the commission’s discussion was brief, members seemed open to MPCA-funded monitoring. In past discussions, some members have spoken out against forcing frac sand businesses to pay for monitoring as unfair or unreasonably expensive.
The commission has been considering proposals for immediate monitoring of frac sand operations and truck routes from the CEQC since June. In past meetings, the Planning Commission noted that it had already decided how to handle frac sand dust during its moratorium study last year, when it developed a rule requiring that sand stockpiles be kept damp and expressed hesitancy to discuss monitoring before the state government did. Supporters of the proposal and CEQC members expressed concerns that the commission might be intentionally delaying the proposal after it spent over a month in between the committee meetings, was sent back to the CEQC for reconsideration, and then was tabled for over a month. The commission and the CEQC took up the issue following a directive from the council in March.
The meeting with the MPCA will not be an open forum for public questions, commission chairman Craig Porter stated. Open forums were used during the commission’s frac sand moratorium study last year. “Since the study was done and we’ve issued our report, we go back to our normal protocol as far as being open to the public,” he said.
At the request of citizens at the meeting, Espinosa agreed to forward public questions to the MPCA representatives. To submit a question for the MPCA representatives, email Carlos Espinosa at email@example.com. To give the MPCA time to prepare responses prior to the October 28 meeting, please submit your questions by this Friday, Espinosa advised.
The MPCA letter is attached to the commission’s agenda for October 14, which is available at www.cityofwinona.com by clicking “Go to Public Documents,” “Public Documents,” “Boards and Commissions,” and “Planning Commission.”