Thursday, June 27, 2013

Northeast Iowa county temporarily halts silica sand mining

The Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors imposed an 18-month moratorium on silica sand mining due to economic and environmental concerns.

By Adam Willman

WINNESHIEK COUNTY, Iowa — The mining of silica sand, a material used to extract oil and natural gas from the earth through a process called hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, has been banned in a northeast Iowa county for the next 18 months.

The moratorium passed unanimously at the June 3 meeting of the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors.

This followed a recommendation from the county planning and zoning commission to implement the moratorium on silica sand mining.

For Winneshiek County Supervisor Dennis Karlsbroten, the main reason he voted for the moratorium was potential damage to local infrastructure.

“I’m primarily concerned with our county roads,” he said. “If we have a lot more truck traffic than what we have had, they won’t last as long and it’s going to cost us a lot of money to replace them and fix them.”

A similar moratorium was passed in neighboring Allamakee County in February, after campaigning by the Allamakee County Protectors.

Community members began organizing the Winneshiek County Protectors to advocate for a moratorium on silica sand mining back in February.

Winneshiek County Protectors Spokesperson Lyle Otte echoed those remarks, adding that heavy machinery would be passing over the roads about 400 times a day.

“Immediately, that is the main detrimental effect is the heavy trucks,” he said. “It’s really a terrible impact on roads and bridges,” Otte said.

Otte added that the silica sand can become airborne and cause major health problems.

The economy of Winneshiek County was also a serious concern among silica sand mining’s opponents.

“It is a short term economic boom similar to other mining booms in different times and places,” Otte explained. “Once the sand is gone, the jobs are gone and they’re left with the aftermath and we don’t want that to happen here.”

Otte said the Winneshiek County Protectors felt the moratorium was vital to completing research and writing ordinances. These ordinances would regulate the transportation and processing of silica sand.

Julie Fischer is the coordinator for the Northeast Iowa Peace and Justice Center in Decorah, which has supported the Winneshiek County Protectors. She said citizens must institute legal regulations to “prevent this area from becoming a frac sand desert.”

Workers operate a silica sand mine in Minnesota. Since silica sand is near
the earth's surface, effects on the landscape are potentially devastating.
(Mary Kenosian/Minnesota Pollution Control Agency)

Otte previously told Iowa Peace Network that silica sand in Winneshiek County is extremely close to the surface, so trying to mask mining operations is extremely difficult.

Karlsbroten and Otte explained that they are looking at similar situations in Minnesota and Wisconsin to see what needs to be accomplished in the next 18 months. Over the next year and a half, Karlsbroten will study a silica sand mine in southeastern Minnesota.

“I will be talking to the neighbors around there, plus I will be talking to their county commissioners to see what implications this mine is causing their county,” he said. 

Otte explained how a moratorium on silica sand mining will help Winneshiek County. 

“The counties and townships in Wisconsin were under the gun to make quick judgments about what to do when the sand mining companies started putting the pressure on; they were left in an indefensible position. Fillmore County to the north of us in Minnesota however, had a successful moratorium and that has become our model,” he said.

Both Otte and Karlsbroten expect silica sand mining to occur after the moratorium ends late next year.

“I don’t think frac sand mining is going to go away for a long time. I think it is going to be a common way to extract natural gas and oil in the United States,” Karlsbroten said. 

Otte and the Winneshiek County Protectors are drawing up plans for when silica sand mining begins. He said community members will be trained for tracking dust from the mines, how road conditions are being affected, monitoring compliance with regulations and giving this information to the county supervisors.

That training and other support could come from the Northeast Iowa Peace and Justice Center which has pledged to assist the protectors. 

“We will continue to support their efforts and be there,” Fischer said. “However we can and offer the services of our center for their use.”

No comments:

Post a Comment