The Winona County Board voted Tuesday to hold two public hearings regarding a moratorium on the widely debated issue of frac sand mining in Winona County.
While the county’s planning commissioners voted against a public hearing, the board chose to require the commission to hold a public hearing at their Dec. 15 meeting. The Board will hold a public hearing of their own on Jan 3. The County Board cannot call a moratorium to a vote until both bodies have held hearings.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the board discussed some of the many questions facing the county with the ongoing debate on three current sand mining permits in Saratoga Township and the possibilities for a moratorium.
“We all want jobs,” said Commissioner James Pomeroy. “But I do have questions. A moratorium is a time to resolve.”
Among the many concerns on frac sand mining discussed at the meeting were recourse options and growth of the industry if permits are allowed.
“If the industry goes from boom to bust who's going to take care of it?” said Pomeroy.
Commissioner Marcia Ward, the only commissioner who voted against holding a public hearing, argued that the mining proposals, with conditions, were within the zoning ordinance regulations and could be pursued “responsibly.”
“People are concerned with the masses,” she said. “Right now, I have three small farms struggling to survive. I support the small farm and small landowners.”
The topic has stirred much controversy on the issue since an Oct. 20 planning commission meeting on the conditional use permits drew a strong public reaction. Many community members voiced concerns on heavy truck traffic and consequential road degradation, health issues, noise levels and safety issues.
Commissioner Wayne Valentine said he’s not ready to commit to a moratorium, but he’s willing to hear what the public has to say on the issue.
“I don’t want this to be considered a city against the rural community,” he said.
While certain county officials and departments have recommended a six-month to one-year moratorium, others have argued that a moratorium would block an economic opportunity for Winona.
“Good industry is good for Winona, but what’s the rush?” said Winona community member Bryan Crigler.
If the board does not vote on the permits by Jan. 19, they will be automatically approved without conditions.