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Letter to the Editor on frac sand mining

Posted: Tue, May 7, 2013 5:04 PM

Dick Janson from Winneshiek County Protectors has e-mailed this Letter to the Editor:

"Some advocates of frac sand mining have stated that mining is already "the most regulated" industry in the United States. A comprehensive review of the role played by federal and state agencies leads to a different conclusion. In fact, the patchwork of regulations regarding sand mining is like Swiss cheese soft and full of holes. If the citizens of Winneshiek County want to protect our community from the negative effects of large scale silica sand mining, we must do it ourselves through the strengthening of our Comprehensive Plan and the passage of new Zoning Ordinance restrictions on that mining.

At the federal level, the Mine Safety & Health Administration only visits mines two to four times per year in order to regulate mining to protect workers onsite.  But it has no regulatory authority to protect neighboring property owners or communities from a host of problems associated with silica sand mining.  The EPA does not regulate mines to insure that they don't pollute our air and water resources.  In fact, no federal agency actually regulates the process of frac sand mining.

As for the state of Iowa, the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship licenses and registers sand mines and requires the posting of a bond to operate, but doesn't regulate mining activity itself.  The Department of Natural Resources issues Flood Plain operating permits, or NPDES discharge permits, if applicable, but doesn't have the staff resources to monitor mines to see if they are actually polluting Iowa's air and water.  No state agency has the authority or mandate to prevent groundwater pollution from mining activity.

The real power to restrict frac sand mining lies in the hands of Iowa's county governments.  The Planning and Zoning Commission, the Board of Supervisors, and potentially the Board of Health can limit the size of mines, their impact on the landscape, the hours of operation, fugitive dust that leaves mine sites, truck traffic (load limits, traffic volume, dust issues), noise, and other concerns.  If we are pro-active, Winneshiek County residents can protect ourselves from the negative effects of industrial sand mining and limit its scope in our county.  We need a 24 month moratorium on the issuance of new silica sand mining permits.  Then we need a thoughtful review of our options followed by the enactment of local zoning restrictions which protect our quality of life, the beauty and integrity of this land, our local economy and taxpayers' pocketbooks which pay for our roads and bridges.  Failure to act is not an option.

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