Land Stewardship Project Moves to Join in Legal Defense of Winona County Frac Sand Ban

Corporate Interests’ Lawsuit is Last-Ditch Effort to Undo Frac Sand Ban

WINONA, Minn. — The Land Stewardship Project (LSP) this week filed a notice of intervention in a lawsuit challenging Winona County over its ordinance prohibiting frac sand operations. LSP is taking this legal action to represent the interests of its Winona County members whose farms, homes, air and water are protected by the frac sand ban.

“Because LSP and its members devoted hundreds of hours of work, over years, on grassroots efforts that led to Winona County prohibiting frac sand mining, they have a vested interest in preserving the legality of the ban,” said Ed Walsh, the lead attorney representing LSP in the intervention proceeding. “For this reason, LSP has given notice to the parties in the lawsuit that it intends to join in the lawsuit as a defendant, along with the county, so that LSP may use its legal resources to fight off this challenge to the county’s ordinance.”

The frac sand ban was the direct result of a 17-month grassroots organizing campaign led by LSP in which residents from across Winona County called on the County Board of Commissioners to place the best interests of the land and people above corporate profits. In November, the Board passed the ban on any new operations for the mining, processing, transport or storage of industrial minerals, including the silica sand desired by oil and gas corporations for hydraulic fracturing. In public hearings and comment periods held in 2016, an average of 80 percent of the testimony and written comments received by the county favored the ban.

Barb Nelson, a member of LSP’s Winona County Organizing Committee, lives at the Arches in Warren Township, several hundred feet from a proposed frac sand mine that is prevented by the ban.

“My neighbors’ health, safety, quality of life and the landscape of our unique area are all at stake,” she said. “This lawsuit is about corporate interests attacking our local decision and trying to undo the will of the people.”

The lawsuit in which LSP now seeks to intervene was filed in March by pro-frac sand interests represented by the Minneapolis-based corporate law firm Larkin Hoffman. This firm has been closely associated for the past several years with frac sand corporations in Minnesota, as well as the industry’s lobby group, the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council.

Larkin Hoffman attorney and lobbyist Peder Larson has frequently testified in favor of the frac sand industry at state-level hearings and travelled to Winona County to speak against the ban in 2016. Larkin Hoffman is also representing frac sand corporation All Energy in a lawsuit against Trempealeau County, Wis., over the denial of a mining permit. Little is known about the exact identity of the plaintiffs in the suit against Winona County’s ban; one entity named as a plaintiff is a recently-formed group calling itself “Southeast Minnesota Property Owners,” whose members are not identified in the paperwork. The address given for this group in the suit is identical to the address of the Minneapolis office of Larkin Hoffman.

“Whoever the so-called Southeast Minnesota Property Owners are, they clearly don’t speak for the vast majority of people of this county,” said Nelson. “People here, especially family farmers and rural residents, understand that the land is not just property and it shouldn’t be destroyed for profit.”

Attorney Ed Walsh is volunteering his legal services pro bono to the Land Stewardship Project. Walsh is an LSP member and rural New Hartford Township resident who is a career trial lawyer and has worked extensively in municipal zoning law with his Illinois and La Crescent, Minn., law firm Walsh, Knippen & Cetina, Chartered. Also representing LSP as additional counsel are attorneys Scott Carlson and Lynn Hayes of Farmers’ Legal Action Group (FLAG). Founded in 1986 and based in Minnesota, FLAG is a law center providing legal services and support to family farmers and their communities to help family farmers stay on the land. FLAG and LSP have worked closely on a variety of issues over the past several decades.