A 10-mile ribbon of popular bluff land on the Wisconsin side of Lake Pepin will be off limits to frac sand development under an unprecedented ordinance approved Wednesday night by the Pepin County Board.
“This is fabulous because it really protects all of the area of Lake Pepin in Pepin County. It’s a huge victory for us,” said Mary Logue, who was among the residents who pushed for the frac-free zone. “We’re really hoping it will be a template for other cities, villages and counties along the Mississippi that are fighting this.”
No Minnesota or Wisconsin county has flatly banned frac sand companies from operating in a defined territory. The Pepin County ordinance, which passed on a 9-3 vote, drew criticism from mining proponents and some County Board members, but a united core of residents around the villages of Pepin and Stockholm pushed for the frac-free zone on the premise that industrial sand projects would destroy the area’s natural endowments, wreck property values and impair the bedrock tourism trade.
“You would destroy fishing, boating, overnight camping and everything that goes with it,” said Pepin County Board Supervisor Bill Mavity, a lawyer and former Minneapolis police officer.
But Mark Krumenacher, who works for a company that sells services to a variety of mining industries, said other Lake Pepin communities in neighboring Pierce County have prospered from sand mining. The village of Maiden Rock, for instance, has long had an underground industrial sand mine.
“Tourism and quality of life clearly has not diminished in those communities, or in Stockholm and Pepin, during the period of industrial sand mining,” Krumenacher wrote this week to the County Board.
The ordinance bucks an industry that has rolled into a powerful position in Wisconsin and Minnesota over the past four years. The two states hold vast deposits of uniquely formed silica sand needed by oil and gas drillers in other states as part of a national boom in hydraulic fracturing to recover crude and natural gas.
Mavity worked with Lake Pepin Partners in Preservation, a civic group, to rally local support for the ordinance, which was proposed after a frac sand group attempted unsuccessfully to build a processing plant and barge-loading terminal on a corner of the lake.
He said the zoning measure prohibits any kind of frac sand operation in a swath from the shoreline to the top of the area’s steep sandstone outcroppings. The ordinance is supported by the Wisconsin Mississippi Parkway Commission as a way to protect that portion of the Great River Road, which is a National Scenic Byway.
The two villages and two townships affected by the ordinance had already voted in support of it.
While Minnesota has fewer than 10 operating frac sand mines, additional mines and processing sites are being permitted in the wake of industry victories at the state Legislature this year. In Wisconsin, frac sand mining and processing has exploded from a handful of facilities three years ago to a nation-leading industry of 105 mines and 65 processing sites.
Tony Kennedy • 612-673-4213