Model zoning standards for Minnesota’s frac-sand mining industry got their first public hearing Wednesday at a meeting of the state Environmental Quality Board and quickly came under fire by mining opponents.
In spirited but orderly testimony, more than 20 “fractivists’’ complained that the board’s initial attempt at developing model standards for use by local units of government was a step backward.
“Throw this out and start over,” said Keith Fossen, an elected township official who lives near Red Wing.
Jeff Smyser, the board’s principal planner, opened the hearing in St. Paul with an acknowledgment that the initial draft was rushed to meet an Oct. 1 deadline set by the Legislature. He promised that changes will be made to the document based on continued input from local authorities, citizens and industry representatives.
“We are nowhere near being finished,” Smyser said.
David Williams, a township official from Fillmore County, called the document “a poor joke to most of the residents of southeastern Minnesota.”
Many who testified were angry that the initial draft suggests that mines be set back only 500 feet from residences. Others raised concerns that the document doesn’t address chemical use by the mines, nor does it offer local authorities the option of completely banning frac sand operations from certain areas.
The first draft of suggested standards also fails to adequately address southeastern Minnesota’s sensitive karst geology, critics said.
“Rest assured, you will be listened to,” Board Chairman Dave Frederickson told the crowd.
Peder Larson, a lobbyist for the frac-sand industry, did not comment on the initial draft of the suggested standards. He reminded the board that the final document will be important to the people who want to invest in the industry.
“We just think you’ve got a difficult job to do,” Larson said.
The Legislature this year assigned the board to develop a set of nonbinding zoning suggestions, or “model standards,” that county and township officials could refer to when drawing up silica sand mining ordinances or when permitting proposed mines. It was part of a package of legislation that dealt for the first time with a regional boom in silica sand mining for delivery to oil and gas fracking fields in North Dakota, Texas, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
Tony Kennedy • 612-673-4213