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Winona County anti-frac sand group confident ban will hold up in appellate court
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Winona County anti-frac sand group confident ban will hold up in appellate court

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Winona County’s Land Stewardship Project is continuing its support of Winona County’s frac sand mining ban as a mining group appeals its case to nullify the ban to the higher court.

LSP said in a statement that the decision by Minnesota Sands to take the Winona County District Court’s dismissal of its lawsuit to the state’s Court of Appeals continued to show contempt for the area’s citizens and governments.

“The oil, gas and frac sand industry has no respect for rural people, our communities, our democracy or the land. It is yet another outrageous and desperate attack by an industry that is unwilling to take ‘no’ for an answer in its quest to exploit our region’s hills, bluffs and farms for the silica sand found beneath them.”

The group said ‘long-standing legal precedent supports the authority of a local government to use its zoning powers in this way to protect the community” and they were confident the ban would be upheld.

Minnesota Sands announced last week that it would be appealing the court decision, after unsuccessfully arguing that the ban violated their constitutional rights by singling out sand used for industrial purposes while allowing mining for construction uses.

Winona County Judge Mary Leahy dismissed the claims in November, and decided the county board acted within its legislative capacity in adopting the ordinance and that the ordinance does not violate the plaintiffs’ rights to equal protection and due process nor U.S. commerce laws.

Leahy also said it was not a “taking,” under which landowners are entitled to compensation when laws strip their property of all economic value. The plaintiffs never had the right to mine their lands as mining was a conditional use and required a permit even before the adoption of the ban. She also ruled the ordinance does not deprive them of “all economic value” as the land can still be used for other purposes.

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LSP was not a party to the district court case despite asking to be allowed to intervene in the lawsuit, and is not involved in the appeal.

Land Stewardship Project was highly involved in the more than year-long effort which ended in the passage of the industrial sand mining ban by Winona County in November 2016.

Johanna Rupprecht, policy organizer for the Land Stewardship Project, said the success of Winona County passing the mining ban is something that can be replicated in other areas, as can the successful defense of the ban in court.

“People in other areas are definitely watching what’s going on in Winona County,” Rupprecht said.

The group has continued to organize on the sand mining issue, including in the Environmental Quality Board’s process for a Minnesota Sands mine in Fillmore County.

Minnesota Sands requested in the fall that the Environmental Quality Board wave its requirement for an Environmental Impact Survey in a proposed mine in Fillmore County, primarily because they claim to have no plans for area mines beyond that 50-acre site.

Rupprecht said that is undercut by their continued attempts to reverse Winona County’s industrial mining ban, which they claimed in court denied them the ability to mine lands they wanted to use.

“They’re saying one thing to the court and one thing to the Environmental Quality Board,” Rupprecht said. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Due to the initial court proceedings, the EQB delayed any decision until at least March 2018 and it may be delayed further with the decision being appealed.

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