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Goodhue County board extends mining moratorium

RED WING - While many of the concerned citizens at the Goodhue County Board meeting Thursday afternoon were familiar faces speaking in opposition to sand mining, a few who turned out to share their thoughts had not been heard by the board in the past.

Red Wing resident Sarah Singer admitted that she didn't have facts about health problems, safety issues or noise complaints. Rather, there was a much more simple reason why she chose to speak out against sand mining in the county.

"I spent much of my money to move here because of the beauty of the area," she told the board, "and I don't like to see it destroyed."

"A home is more than a house," Singer added. "A home is also the surrounding area."

Singer was one of several local residents who asked the County Board during a public hearing to extend its silica sand mining moratorium -- if not ban the practice altogether.

While banning wasn't much considered, a moratorium extension was, and the board voted unanimously to tack another 12 months onto the already existing moratorium that prevents new silica sand -- also known as frac sand -- mining operations from getting started within the county.

"Frac sand mining comes in different shapes, not one fits all," Commissioner Jim Bryant said. "Some may fit and some may not."

The extension of the moratorium to September 2013 will allow a Mining Study Committee to dive deeper into the concerns surrounding silica sand and come up with strong additions to the county's zoning ordinance. The committee is not likely to include the same people who took part during the past year.

Florence Town Board member Jim McIlrath told commissioners that Florence Township would like to have some representation on the next study committee.

"We'd also like anybody that has a conflict of interest that sits on that committee to be removed," he added.

The County Board will come together in September to determine who they want to make up the Mining Study Committee for the coming year.

Prior to extending its moratorium during Thursday's meeting, the board also voted to approve the amendments to the ordinance that the current Mining Study Committee suggested.

Commissioner Ron Allen voted against approval, stating that there were certain parts of the ordinance that needed to be more strict.

"I would just prefer to wait until after the moratorium (expires) to implement and vote on an ordinance," Allen said.

The remainder of the board was in favor of the MSC's suggested amendments, and commissioners added some amendments of their own before voting for approval.

Bryant suggested changing the terminology of the ordinance to put "county approved" in place of any lines that ask for "best practices" so that the county has more control.

He also said he'd like county officials to have the ability to go onto a mine's property to handle complaints or inspections at any time.

"Not whenever they want us to come," Bryant said.

The amendments were included before the vote for approval. Still, if commissioners come up with additional items they want to see added, there's room for adjustment.

"You can always amend your ordinances," Land-use Management Director Lisa Hanni told the board.

The zoning is not solely for silica sand mines, but instead covers all types of aggregate mining.