With an audience of nearly 100 community members ready to share their opinions, the Winona County Planning Commission voted Thursday not to have a public hearing on the discussion of a moratorium on the debated frac sand mining permits.
The public expressed their concerns at an earlier hearing Oct. 20, with over 100 people in attendance to speak on the topic. To continue to vocalize their opinions, some formed advocate groups for a moratorium.
“It’s our air and our water,” said community member Marie Kovecsy. “You can’t replace that.”
Kovecsy monitors current truck traffic from the Biesanz Stone Company as part of her contribution to a citizen's group dedicated to educating themselves and the public on the progression of sand mines in other areas.
“Study the effects of the mine we already have,” said Kovecsy. “I’m not anti-business, I just want them to be good neighbors. Is this good neighbors?”
But community members didn’t stop there.
Commissioners announced at Thursday's meeting that they had received many emails and phone calls regarding public opinion on the idea of a moratorium and the public plans to continue voicing their opinions by calling the county commissioners.
“I think it’s critical that we give the public the chance to speak on this,” said Commissioner Arland Otte. “They have to live with this.”
But in a 5-4 vote commissioners voted not have a public hearing and have not set a date to schedule one.
Among the many concerns on frac sand mining, Thursday’s meeting discussed the issues directly related to the community: road and traffic conditions, health alarms and the future of Winona.
Many commissioners were concerned that approval of the current permits would mean approval for all future permits.
“The issue isn’t these three little mines,” said Commissioner Robert Redig. “The big issue is the cumulative effect and can you stop it.”
Jason Gilman, Winona County’s community and environmental services director, used a map to show commissioners that the frac sand, although visible in some areas, is buried under the surfaces of the entire county.
Gilman proposed a six-month moratorium to the board to provide time to meet with neighboring counties and come up with a method for a fair option to pay for road repairs.
“This is a gold rush,“ said Commissioner Kyle Colbenson. “But you have to ask yourself, what do you want Winona County to look like in 30 or 40 years?”
Other members were more optimistic about the possibilities of frac sand mining.
“The bottom line is this is an industry,” said Commissioner Bruce Speltz. “Industry is good for Winona.”
After nearly two hours of debating, the commissioners voted not to have a public hearing and tabled the votes on the current permits for 60 days. The issue of a moratorium and the public hearing can be reopened during those 60 days if commissioners feel it is necesary. They now have until Jan. 19 before all three permits are automatically approved.