Winona County commissioners voted Tuesday to ban the highly contentious industry of frac sand mining, making it the first county in the state to take such a stand.
After a 40-minute discussion in front of a roomful of community members, the ban passed, 3-2.
Commissioner Marie Kovecsi, who voted for the ban, said there are seven frac sand operations and an active mine in her district.
“These operations are literally in my constituents’ backyard,” Kovecsi said. “The direct implications of noise and dust and road safety are faced by my constituents.”
Sand mining in Minnesota and Wisconsin boomed and waned along with the oil and gas production practice known as hydrofracking.
The particular kind of sand found in parts of southeast Minnesota was in huge demand by exploration companies, which use it to prop open cracks in the underground shale formations that produce oil and natural gas.
Mining supporters in Winona County have said they’re trying to protect private property rights, provide jobs and preserve the region’s chance to cash in on changes in the nation’s oil industry.
Commissioner Steve E. Jacob, who voted against the ban, said he wanted to find “common ground and compromise” by regulating the number of sand mines in the county, but despite approval by the planning commission, it was voted down by the majority County Board.
“It was a rural versus city issue, and I voted in favor of my district,” Jacob said. “We’ve been fighting this issue for five years now.”
Opponents fear destruction of scenic bluffs along the Mississippi River, health problems from blowing silica sand dust, contamination of groundwater, and damage to roads and more accidents from the trucks that cart sand to and from transportation hubs.
Johanna Rupprecht, of the Land Stewardship Project, said people were hopeful the ban would pass after commissioners voted in an Oct. 25 meeting to finalize language that would impose an outright ban on all industrial mineral operations, including frac sand mining.
After Tuesday night’s final vote, Rupprecht said she couldn’t believe “we are at this point” and hopes this will set a precedent for other jurisdictions.
“People had their say and the local officials followed the will of the people,” she said. “They put the best interests of the citizens in the county and of the land of the county ahead of what’s best for the frac sand industry.”