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Winona commission tables frac sand regulations, requests more research

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Winona's planning commission tabled a proposal Monday that would change the way the city issues permits and regulates city businesses that handle frac sand.

Commissioners agreed to address concerns and gather more information before making a recommendation on the proposal to the Winona City Council.

"I think we have a lot more work to do, to be honest, to take care of our community," said commission chair Craig Porter.

About 40 people packed a conference room at the Winona City Hall for an afternoon public hearing on the proposal. Of the 20 speakers, most expressed concerns about frac sand-related business development, though some spoke in support of the growing industry's presence in Winona. Concerns raised included road damage, health issues, impacts to neighborhoods and businesses, air and water quality, and noise. Some said the city should go much further in regulating the industry.

"I think these conditions are a baby step when what I think you need is a giant leap," said Matthew Byrnes.

"This is a public safety disaster," said Mike Leutgeb Munson, who along with about 30 others earlier Monday afternoon blocked the entrance to a Winona frac sand rail loading facility. "You are enabling this. If your hands are tied, tell us. If your hands are tied, tell the cameras. How is this good for our city? How will this not get worse than it already is?"

Stephen Doerr, who helped prepare applications for proposed sand mines in Saratoga Township, spoke in favor of frac sand-related activity, citing the economic growth the booming industry could bring.

"This so-called ‘Mount Frac' is likely a small solution to the crack in the U.S. economy," Doerr said, referring to the large pile of silica sand on Second Street west of Huff Street, the site of Monday's protest.

Planning commissioners asked city staff to continue researching the effects of silica sand-related activities prior to the commission's Feb. 27 meeting.

"We need business, but yet we also have to look at the health and welfare of all concerned," commissioner Dale Boettcher said.

City staff recently presented the commission with a proposal to regulate frac sand operations in Winona, including placing specific restrictions on operating hours, covering and watering sand piles, landscaping sites, and limiting the routes of trucks hauling sand through the city.

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