Welcome to SEMEP's Internet Site
We are a tax exempt, non-profit environmental advocacy organization working to protect Southeastern Minnesota's people, natural assets and environment; while promoting sustainable economic development. We hope that your visit will be informative.
Silica Mining in Southeastern Minnesota -- Tale of Two Counties
Fillmore and Houston counties are neighbors in southeastern Minnesota. Both counties imposed one year moratoria on silica sand mining activity on the same day --- February 28, 2012. Yet, their approaches toward regulating the encroaching silica sand mining industry could not be more different.
The Fillmore County commissioners have aggressively studied the silica sand mining industry. They have convened a study committee that conducted open meetings to discuss the prohibition or regulation of silica sand for 7 months. The public was invited to participate and discuss silica sand issues at each of the 7 meetings held by the study committee. The planning commission then held two meetings to allow the public to discuss solutions for silica sand mining. Local newspapers aggressively reported the details of all sand committee and planning commission meetings. Understanding that the prospect of prohibiting the mining of silica sand was politically impossible, the commissioners and study committee worked to draft a strict ordinance regulating silica sand mining. That proposed mining ordinance was approved by the county planning committee on November 15th, and recommended for approval of the commissioners on November 26th. That proposed mining ordinance would (i) limit the number of active silica sand mines in Fillmore County to 5, (ii) limit the size of individual mining projects to 50 acres, with no more than 25 acres being actively mined before beginning site reclamation, (iii) prohibit the washing and processing of sand at the mining site, (iv) levy a road impact fee of $.219 per ton per mile on trucks hauling sand from mining sites, and (v) impose tough operating regulations on mining activity to protect water, natural landscapes, safety, and traffic. Compliments to the Fillmore County commissioners, planning commission, staffers and study committee. Fillmore County commissioners and planning commission members understood the necessity of protecting the existing agriculture and hospitality businesses from economic damage by an encroaching large-scale silica sand mining industry that cares little about protecting local landscapes, environment, roads and businesses. Fillmore County commissioners, planning commission members, staffers and sand study committee members also understood that the ultimate product -- the new mining ordinance -- could be more effectively sold to county residents if the residents participated in the meetings that developed the mining ordinance.
The full text of the proposed Fillmore County mining ordinance can be found at the county's website at www.co.fillmore.mn.us/zoning.html.
Houston County, on the other hand, has done very little. The Houston County commissioners also convened a study committee. However, the study committee, comprised substantially of mining proponents, has not allowed the active participation of the county's residents in its meetings -- especially those residents opposed to silica sand mining in Houston County. Leaders of the study committee and zoning staffers have secretly drafted a proposed mining ordinance. When drafts of the proposed ordinance were leaked to the public, it was clear that the proposed Houston County ordinance would be substantially weaker than the mining ordinance on the way to approval in Fillmore County.
The differences are striking. Opponents of silica sand mining in Fillmore County applauded the open process of discussing silica sand mining. Opponents of mining now approve the proposed mining ordinance that seems destined to be approved by the commissioners. On the other hand, opponents of mining in Houston County are vocally opposed to both the study committee process and the proposed ordinance that is secretly working its way toward some version of sunlight. The lesson learned is for government to use an open and participatory process to discuss and resolve controversial issues. Secrecy and a closed process of discussion do not work. They only foster more opposition to the problem. Opponents of mining in Houston County have launched a website to discuss many of the problems with silica sand mining. Visit this very informative Sand Point Times at www.sandpointtimes.com to get the latest regional information on mining.
For additional information on these projects, click on our SEMEP Projects page. SEMEP will report on our progress to determine if these projects have a potential adverse environmental impact upon the communities and natural assets in which they are proposed.