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home : government : government May 24, 2016

12/13/2013 9:51:00 AM
County board reaches agreement on sand ordinance

By Paul Martin

Negotiation and compromise led to passage of a raft of amendments to the Goodhue County Mining Ordinance that left Commissioners and "Save the Bluffs" campaigners alike feeling broadly content.

A public hearing and series of votes took place at the County Board meeting of December 5. Staff, Commissioners and protestors all look across the Mississippi to Western Wisconsin, and are determined to avoid repeating the explosive and largely unregulated growth of huge mines that has occurred there.

Four Points at

Heart of Compromise

Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel has been central to the process, since he serves on the Planning Advisory Commission (PAC), and is also this year's County Board Chair. In October, he met with "Save the Bluffs" spokesman and Red Wing businessman Keith Fossen. They set out four action points they could agree on. These covered banning mining within a mile of housing areas, or the Mississippi; forbidding most chemicals used to process and wash sand; and setting "harsh penalties" for mine operators who violate County rules.

The Mining Committee and the PAC have since weighed in, and a modified list came up for a vote. Changes to the four points reflected other concerns of the Board and PAC. They wanted to avoid conflicting or overlapping regulations. They wanted to leave as much as possible of the setting of pollution standards and "best practices" to the State, with its much greater resources. And they were set on safeguarding the small aggregate mines that dot the County, are vital for road maintenance and are much less of a pollution threat.

Protect Small-Scale

Aggregate Mines

The meeting heard from two men who sit on both the Mining Committee and the PAC. Bernie Overby said, "There are three or four big issues we have kept in mind. The Ordinance must be written for all of Goodhue County. There are places in the County where sand should not be mined, but there are others where landowners should have the opportunity to derive revenue from their land. And the mining Ordinance covers all mining, so we must not limit aggregate mining, on which Counties and Townships depend for affordable rock for their roads."

Howard Stenerson, who is the only mineowner on both Committees, said "The Ordinance as amended will make it much harder and more expensive to open aggregate mines. We mineowners can live with that, but we will have to pass those costs on. Rock will cost a lot more."

Decision Time

Lisa Hanni, Director of Land Use Management, set a raft of proposed motions before the Board. The first vote confirmed the end date of the County moratorium on mining applications as March 6, 2014.

Next came the four points agreed between Fossen and Rechtzigel in October. The Board agreed to ban mining activities "within one mile of cities, R-1 (rural housing) zones and campgrounds." They agreed, as a compromise, to ban the use of flocculants in washing and processing sand, but to allow the use of dry chemicals. Flocculants are chemicals that cause sediments to settle out of the mined sand, but are believed to be a major cause of pollution in groundwater.

Protection for Sensitive Waters

The other two points were altered more in discussion. "The PAC and Mining Committee voted against banning mining activities within one mile of the Mississippi," said Hanni, "because that would not protect most of the Great River Road in the County, nor other sensitive waters." The Great River Road follows Hwy 61, and is often more than a mile from the River. It is important for recreation and tourism. Hanni recommended instead a ban "within 1,000 feet of all public waters.

"Since Public Waters have been defined by the State, this would be easy to define and enforce," she said. "It would also protect almost all of the Great River Road." Rechtzigel was fine with that, "so long as it only covers silica sand mining, not all mines."

County Attorney Steve Betcher foresaw "a succession of difficult, complex, technical decisions. The time to take a decision on these water corridors is now."

Expert advice came from Beau Kennedy, of Goodhue County Soil and Water District, who noted that groundwater pollution is very hard to predict, and almost impossible to control.

Both bans passed by a four to one vote. Commissioner Ted Seifert voted No, saying he hated too much regulation, and doubted there would be much effect on tourism.

Staff to Draft

"Effective Regulations"

Finally came the subject of "Harsh Penalties." Commissioners agreed with Betcher that this wording was not the best, and could even look as if the County was picking on a group of concerns. Equally, Board and Staff were unhappy with fines which huge mining companies could take in their stride while continuing to operate outside the Ordinance - as has reportedly happened at several locations in Wisconsin. Staff were directed to draft "effective regulations."

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