Residents Call for Winona County to Pass Frac Sand Ban

WINONA, Minn. -- More than 100 residents from across Winona County gathered today at the Tau Center in Winona to stand up against the oil, gas, and frac sand industry’s attempts to strip-mine the county’s hills, bluffs, and farmland for sand. The Land Stewardship Project (LSP) held a rally and news conference calling on the Winona County government to pass a ban on any new frac sand mining, processing, and transportation operations, immediately before the County Planning Commission’s public hearing on the proposed ban.

Several rural residents who serve on LSP’s Winona County Organizing Committee, and have been helping to lead a yearlong, grassroots campaign for the ban, spoke about the need to protect the integrity of the land, and the health, safety, and welfare of residents, by banning frac sand operations. They highlighted the unique beauty of Winona County’s landscape, their love for and dependence on this land as rural people, and the documented failure of regulations to prevent harm where the destructive frac sand industry has taken hold.

Barb Nelson described her family’s 46 years as residents of The Arches in rural Warren Township, where a Texas corporation has proposed a major frac sand mine. “I have the privilege of taking care of or preserving my area,” Nelson said. “I appreciate that people before me preserved and did not ruin it, and I’ve been able to enjoy it for half a century. I know that people all over Winona County love where they live, just as much as I love where I live. That’s why we need a county ban on frac sand operations.”

Over the past several years, thousands of Winona County residents have taken action to oppose the frac sand industry, including signing petitions, putting up yard signs, writing letters to the editor, contacting elected officials, and speaking at County Board meetings. Saint Charles resident Tessa Schweitzer told the crowd about the over 1000 signatures gathered by residents of that community to oppose a massive frac sand processing plant proposed there. “The people of the Saint Charles area stopped that frac sand plant and now we are saying ‘no’ to the frac sand industry on a county-wide level,” she said.

“Industrial frac sand mining is strip-mining of the very earth that sustains us,” Schweitzer added. “The thought of removing a hill or bluff millions of years in the making was obscene to me and to many, many others.”

Lynnea Pfohl, a mother of three raising her young family in Cedar Valley in Homer Township, pointed out that “we rely on the sand staying in our aquifers to filter our drinking water.” She spoke about the threats that frac sand operations -- and the extreme fossil fuel energy extraction and climate change they enable -- present to her family’s rural way of life, and to her children’s health and future. The ban is necessary for “protecting all the people in Winona County,” Pfohl said, “instead of corporate interests that benefit only a select few.”

Joe Morse, a Wilson Township resident who served as MC of the rally, said, “So many people came out for this rally and to testify at the hearing tonight because they feel strongly about keeping frac sand mining out of Winona County. People have come out, on a summer night when there are many other things they could be doing, because they understand how important it is to tell our officials to enact the ban.”

The Planning Commission was hearing public testimony on a proposed zoning ordinance amendment prepared by the County Attorney that would prohibit any new industrial mineral operations, including frac sand operations, which are currently the only such industrial mining activities proposed in the county. If passed, the proposal would set a precedent as the first known county-wide frac sand ban; some townships, such as Florence Township in Goodhue County, have already banned frac sand operations, and Pepin County, Wisconsin, has prohibited them within a corridor along the Great River Road. The Winona County Planning Commission will make a recommendation on the proposed ban later this summer to the County Board of Commissioners, which is expected to make a final decision on the ban in late summer or early fall.

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