In pursuing a possible moratorium on frac-sand mining in Winneshiek County, county officials plan to be extremely careful.

"We want to make sure we protect what we have here as far as current (mining) operations," said Supervisor Mark Kuhn, during a discussion of the topic at Monday's Board of Supervisors meeting.

Winneshiek County is not trying to stop current mining operations in the county, which render rock and sand used for livestock bedding and construction purposes. The Board of Supervisors is in the process of doing extensive research regarding frac-sand mining and its potential effects on the county.

Local concerns

While environmental concerns were not addressed at Monday's meeting, earlier this month, the Supervisors heard from a number of citizens who raised concerns about frac-sand mining's effect on the landscape and tourism, water quality, traffic safety and infrastructure, among others.

Last month, the Allamakee County Board of Supervisors passed an 18-month moratorium on frac-sand mining, following several public hearings on the subject which drew a variety of comments from the public.

Local attorney Karl Knudson represents both the Allamakee County Protectors and the Winneshiek County Protectors, local groups which have formed to monitor the status of frac-sand mining in their respective counties.

Local moratorium

The Winneshiek County supervisors are researching whether or not to place a moratorium on frac- or silica-sand mining, which is used for "fracking" or hydraulic fracturing, a 75-year-old technique used to release petroleum, natural gas (including shale gas, tight gas and coal seam gas) or other substances for extraction. Frac sand, or silica, is quartz sand of a certain size and shape that is suspended in fluid and injected into oil and gas wells under high pressure. The fluid pressure opens and enlarges fractures as well as creates new ones. Sand grains are carried into these fractures and prop them open after the fluid is pumped out.

Identifying differences

Supervisor Dean Thompson, who, along with Supervisor Dennis Karlsbroten, has been assigned by the group with doing additional research on the matter, said nearby Fillmore County (Minn.) was successful in adopting new zoning ordinance rules which split the silica-sand mining component from other types of mining in their ordinances.

"Locally, we use aggregate and sand for dairy bedding and construction. You're right to have to identify those things, so we can clearly differentiate the work that's in our county's best interest," said Thompson.

Thompson said he and Karlsbroten have talked to commissioners in southern Minnesota and Allamakee County (where moratoriums are already in place).

"We've also been to Olson Explosives and talked with the Winneshiek County Protectors and Planning and Zoning (P&Z)," said Thompson, adding they have invitations through Olson Explosives to visit a mine in Wisconsin.

"Our charge has been to collect information from the industry and the community. We would like to introduce a resolution next week for P & Z to report back to the Board on the desirability for a moratorium."

Karlsbroten added adjacent counties have already proposed moratoriums, "And we feel it probably would be in our best interest to have one also."

Thompson said the intent is not to interfere with current or future operation of local limestone mining.

"It's not stopping the issue. It's looking at the problems," he said.

Following a unanimous vote by the Board to add the issue to next week's agenda, Board Chair John Logsdon reminded the Board they would have to "be very specific about any current or future operations."

"We don't want to make their cost of operating any higher," added Kuhn.