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  Monday January 26th, 2015    

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Planning Commission fails to protect citizens (11/24/2013)
From: Mike Kennedy

It is a fact that silica dust is a cancer causer. It is also a fact that the elevated volume of truck traffic needed for the frac-sand industry will result in higher volumes of diesel exhaust. For close to two years, Winona citizens have asked the city Planning Commission to protect the community against both of those health hazards via long-term planning for proper safeguards.

But again and again, the Planning Commission and its chair have failed to implement or research those local protections. Rather, the continued direction of the Planning Commission has been set based on the opinion and claimed expertise of its chair, Craig Porter. The most recent — and perhaps the most outrageous — example occurred Tuesday, November 12, when the Planning Commission turned down a $60,000 offer from the state to do air-quality monitoring.

Winona’s Citizens Environmental Quality Committee (CEQC), an advisory board to the City Planning Commission, has repeatedly made recommendations to the commission that were based on their expertise and responsibility to their purpose. Those actions were rejected by the Planning Commission, with the chair, Craig Porter, on June 24, 2013, saying “that results he’s seen indicate there aren’t any public health issues with ambient crystalline silica at the sand operations studied.” On August 28, 2013, again Chairman Porter said, “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.” On that same date, the Planning Commission again delayed recommendations of the City CEQC regarding air quality monitoring.

In a letter to Carlos Espinosa, assistant city planner, from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) dated October 7, 2013, the state provided answers to written questions from the city staff and the public regarding air quality monitoring in Winona. The letter also contains an offer to begin a year-long pilot air monitoring program at one site in Winona with the state bearing the primary costs.

Two MPCA technicians were available at the October 28 meeting of the Planning Commission and provided answers to questions from commission members. The pilot program offer was reviewed and a location was discussed. When asked about other sites or facilities, Mr. Kohlasch, Manager of the MPCA Air Assessment Section, stated the other sites in the City of Winona that could require monitoring are typically instituted as part of a regulatory action by the city, such as application for a permit or environmental review, or as part of an enforcement action, the costs are normally borne by the business. Assistant City Planner Espinosa stated that any discussion should be considered in the context of the full set of recommendations from the Citizens Environmental Quality Committee.

A meeting was held on Tuesday, Nov. 12, with the sole topic of business being the MPCA offer of their monitoring expertise for Winona. Chairperson Porter stated that he “is not satisfied with the work they have done, and disagrees with their recommendations,” following that with the comment “they did not do their job, they have only met once.” He even stated that he was satisfied with testing the city’s air quality using the Federal PCA monitor on top of the bluff in Great River Bluffs State Park, 18 miles southeast of Winona. Mr. Porter has one point of view, and it does not reflect concern with “identifying and implementing both short- and long-term goals pertaining to the future growth and development of the City.” He made the deciding vote to kill the motion and decline the air quality monitoring proposal from the MPCA.

Thankfully, Commissioner Dale Boettcher made a motion to table the offer for further discussion until the next meeting; that was voted on and passed… Here we go again!

I and the many citizens that have spoken before the commission would strongly suggest a new chairperson.



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