With five more sand mine applications submitted to Winona County, it is clear that the sand rush is on. No more speculation - the rush is real, and the time to act on a moratorium is now.
There remain many unanswered questions:
-- How many sand mines can operate in Winona County?
-- How can the county legally say "no" to any, once they've said "yes" to some?
-- How many trucks can simultaneously haul sand on area roads?
-- Who pays for road repairs - taxpayers or sand mine operators?
-- How can fees be equitably collected to pay for negative impacts to roads, public health, safety, environmental damage, water and loss of quality of life?
-- What are the projected impacts on land values after the sand mines have closed?
-- If mines are permitted, what restrictions will be placed on "reclaimed" land to protect groundwater recharge areas from farm chemicals and industrial contaminants?
-- Do the targeted areas contain any Indian burials sites, pioneer cemeteries or Amish graves?
-- Do the areas contain habitat for federally listed species, such as Karner's Blue butterflies?
-- How much has Winona County accomplished, working with other counties and state agencies to develop a unified regulatory framework?
-- Due to the extent of landscape change being proposed, shouldn't an environmental impact assessment be completed prior to any permits being issued?
The Winona County Soil and Water Conservation District is in the process of developing a multi-county application to provide Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) conservation easements to landowners in the Rochester Plateau to protect prairies, habitat for rare species and groundwater recharge areas. This would provide an economic incentive to protect, rather than destroy the landscape. We cannot submit our application to the state until April, however.
By the way, I drove to Lewiston yesterday. As I turned from Hartwood Drive onto Hwy. 43, I got behind one sand truck, traveling at 70 mph, and was followed by another. Both had orange sand dribbling off their sides and back ends, and both seemed to be in a big hurry.
Yes, the rush is on. Let's slow down and be thoughtful. It is in all of our best interests.