The refrain heard over and over again in Minnesota’s pitched political battle over frac sand mining this year was: “We don’t want to be Wisconsin.”
Just across the border lie leveled bluffs, groundwater-draining processing facilities and communities choked by truck congestion — the result of Wisconsin’s mine-first, ask-questions-later regulatory approach to sand mining. But because of the farsighted work done by a courageous county on that state’s western edge — declaring a 12-mile strip of bluffland a frac-free zone — Minnesotans who want to ensure that sand mining is done responsibly should now look east for examples of what to do, instead of only what not to do.
“Other folks can do this,’’ said Bill Mavity, a retired Twin Cities attorney who now lives in Pepin County, serves on the County Board and played a critical role in crafting the frac-free zoning ordinance, thought to be the first of its kind. Protections like this “are increasingly important because of how large the industry is that is coming and the clout and the power that they have.’’
A legislative session in which Minnesota lawmakers steadily whittled down new state-level safeguards to the bare minimum should especially prompt southeast Minnesotans to give serious scrutiny to Pepin County’s proactive measure.
While sand has been mined across Minnesota for decades, the state’s environmentally fragile southeast corner contains accessible deposits now in high demand. The sand is a key ingredient in a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, used to unlock deposits of natural gas and oil.
Citizens concerned about potentially explosive growth in sand mining went in busloads to the State Capitol this session seeking safeguards to protect the region’s picturesque communities and vibrant tourism industry. Among the concerns: that sand mining could disrupt the cold, clear waters that supply drinking water and are the lifeblood of the area’s world-class trout streams.
But lawmakers rejected sweeping environmental protections such as a moratorium on sand mining in favor of more limited protections — such as new state permitting authority over sand mines near trout streams.
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