Local Businesses & Groups Call for Winona County Frac Sand Ban

Letter to County Board Signed by 47 Organizations & Businesses

WINONA, Minn. — Forty-seven Winona County businesses and organizations have signed a letter calling on the County Board of Commissioners to ban any new frac sand mining, processing and transportation operations. The letter is being released today in conjunction with a rally being held before the County Board’s public hearing on the frac sand issue. A copy of the letter, which includes the 47 signatories, is available here.

The letter cites various reasons its signers support a frac sand ban, including concerns about water quality, agriculture, natural beauty and biodiversity, roads, neighbors’ quality of life and property values, air quality, the local economy, and the frac sand industry’s incompatibility with the County’s Comprehensive Plan. It also notes that “regulation has proven inadequate in protecting residents and the environment from the harmful impacts of frac sand operations,” and that attempting to regulate, rather than ban, the industry would burden county staff and taxpayers.

The oil and gas industry desires silica sand, stripped from the region’s hills, bluffs and farmland, for use in hydraulic fracturing elsewhere in the country. For years, residents in Winona County and throughout southeastern Minnesota have stood up against the industry’s attempts to establish itself here, particularly after witnessing the harmful consequences of frac sand extraction in Wisconsin.

Many signers of the letter are farmers and other business owners that depend on a healthy, functioning landscape to produce and provide local foods for Winona County and surrounding communities.

“This is a beautiful area of Minnesota and we don’t want to see it ruined; we don’t want our water ruined,” said farmer Jackie Hoch of Hoch Orchard and Gardens in New Hartford Township, one of the signers of the letter. “There are plenty of other ways to make a living here, other opportunities for businesses and jobs, like in agriculture. If we allow frac sand mining, we take that away.”

Bill Carter, co-owner of Prairie Moon Nursery in Wiscoy Township, shared similar reasons for why his business supports a ban on frac sand operations.

“Why wouldn’t a local business support the ban? It’s common sense,” he said. “The business owners I know want to showcase the beauty of Winona County and build our local economy around long-term, sustainable jobs. As experts in ecological restoration, we at Prairie Moon can confidently tell you that any so-called reclaimed land that’s been mined will not be as good to the environment as the original habitat.”

Tex Hawkins, of the local Will Dilg Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America, said his group signed the letter because of the potential threat to human health and the environment frac sand mining poses in the county, as well as the current damage being caused by the oil, gas and frac sand industry elsewhere.

“We clearly see the connection between the mining and export of silica and the fracking of oil and gas that threatens so many other communities and states, as well as global climate stability,” said Hawkins.

Since 2015, members of the Land Stewardship Project (LSP) have led a grassroots campaign for a frac sand ban in Winona County. The County Board initiated formal consideration of a ban in April 2016. At a previous public hearing before the County Planning Commission in June, 79 percent of testifiers were in favor of a ban; 88 percent of written public comments received this summer also supported a ban. A final decision is expected as soon as early November. If Winona County passes an outright ban on frac sand operations, it would be the first known county to do so across its entire jurisdiction.

“This letter is further proof of the deep and broad support for a frac sand ban in Winona County, from residents all over the county and from all walks of life,” said LSP organizer Johanna Rupprecht. “The people continue to send a clear message: our County Board must reject any proposal to allow frac sand operations, and instead, pass the ban.”

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