NOTE: The Land Stewardship Project is leading a campaign in Minnesota’s Winona County to pass a ban on any new frac sand mining, processing or transportation operations. Wiscoy Township resident Cherie Hales, Homer Township resident Lynnea Pfohl, and Saratoga Township resident Vince Ready are all members of LSP’s Winona County Organizing Committee. They compiled this list of reasons why the ban is the right policy to protect Winona County. For more information on this campaign, e-mail LSP’s Johanna Rupprecht, or call her at 507-523-3366.
• Frac Sand Operations Threaten Human Health & Safety
Frac sand mining and processing operations generate silica dust, a known health hazard — enough exposure can cause lung diseases, including silicosis, emphysema, COPD, tuberculosis and lung cancer, as well as immune system diseases. Neighbors of these operations already experience dust polluting their homes and businesses with harmful respiratory effects, and there has been very little study of the extent of these risks, especially to vulnerable populations. The heavy truck traffic created by the frac sand industry also causes harmful air pollution from diesel fumes and creates a safety risk on rural roads.
• Frac Sand Mining Destroys the Landscape & Threatens Water Quality
“Reclamation” cannot restore productive farmland. Once a bluff is gone, you can’t bring it back. The sand that would be removed provides the primary filter for water moving into our aquifers. Because of the highly sensitive karst geology of this region, mining and chemically processing sand threaten our drinking water.
• Monitoring & Regulations Have Failed in Wisconsin
Public records and media reports show that frac sand companies have routinely violated regulations and polluted streams, rivers and wetlands. Chemical-laden wastewater has been handled in an unsafe manner on numerous occasions, threatening groundwater and neighboring properties.
• The Frac Sand Industry Puts the Burden on Taxpayers
Unless frac sand operations are prohibited, the permitting process, monitoring and enforcement will require additional time and personnel, resulting in higher taxes. Truck traffic generated by the industry will wear roads out at 10 times the rate of normal traffic, according to a 2012 Winona County Highway Department study.
• Frac Sand Mining Will Harm Our Economy
Historically, mining does not provide sustained prosperity because of the volatility of the market. Mining also tends to discourage and displace other economic activity and diversity. Frac sand mining would put agriculture, tourism and recreation, which are important parts of Winona County’s economic base, at risk. In 2013 the leisure and hospitality industry in Winona County generated gross sales of $96,000,000 and sales tax of $6,500,000. In 2012 the market value of agricultural products in the county was $282,000,000. The leisure and hospitality industry employed 2,300 people in the county in 2013, and 1,500 were employed in agriculture. The relatively small number of jobs generated by frac sand mining are highly vulnerable to fluctuations in the industry, as seen in recent layoffs at multiple frac sand operations in Wisconsin.
• Frac Sand Mining Puts Property Rights & Quality of Life at Risk
Studies have repeatedly shown that property values decrease near mines and haul routes. The noise and light pollution and increased traffic created by the frac sand industry threaten the health and quality of life of Winona County residents. Allowing frac sand operations takes away neighbors’ rights to enjoy the use of their property.
• It is Legal & Necessary to Ban Frac Sand Mining
Winona County’s Comprehensive Plan includes a value statement supporting “the stewardship of the land and its resources” and goals of “preservation and promotion of agriculture” and “protection and enhancement of the air, water and land resources in the County as a vital ingredient of the living environment.” Frac sand mining is incompatible with these goals and values. The long-established purpose of zoning is to protect the community’s health, safety and welfare. There is ample legal precedent for banning activities that threaten these fundamental rights.
It is the responsibility of our elected officials to amend the zoning ordinance to ban any new frac sand operations in the county in order to protect people and the environment.