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Goodhue planning commission says no to extending mining ban

RED WING, Minn. - The Goodhue County Planning Advisory Commission voted Monday night not to extend the county's mining moratorium. All that remains is final approval by the County Board for the moratorium to automatically expire Sept. 6.

The unanimous recommendation came after a nearly two-hour public hearing, and echoed the recommendation made July 8 by the county's Mining Study Committee.

About a dozen area residents, including members of the grassroots activist group Save the Bluffs, engaged planning commission members in occasionally heated discussion about environmental, health and tourism impacts of mining.

"We're very concerned about frac-sand mining from a tourism point of view," Lake City Tourism Bureau President Greg Schreck said.

Schreck asked the commissioners if they knew the exact value of tourism along the Mississippi River from Goodhue County to the Iowa border.

"You should have that at the top of your list," Schreck said. "It's over $200 million, and it's probably going to double in the next five years if we maintain an environment that will support it."

PAC and County Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel responded to Schreck's comments by asking if he read the county's revised mining ordinance, to which Schreck admitted that he had not.

"I would not call our ordinance careless," Rechtzigel said. "I think that is disrespectful to the committee that worked on it, and especially if you haven't read it."

PAC Commissioner Bernie Overby added that the ordinance allows the county to put provisions in conditional-use permits to adequately protect citizens. "And we will do that," he said.

The PAC's decision includes reviewing modifications to the county's Comprehensive Plan stressing the importance of tourism in the area. But commissioners agreed the discussion could be done without a mining moratorium in place.

A last-minute amendment

Hours before Monday's meeting, Save the Bluffs filed an ordinance amendment to create a mining overlay district that would show exactly where mining would be allowed in Goodhue County.

"We have a lot of landowners and homeowners who can't sell their houses right now ... because it isn't specific where the mining can happen in their backyard," said Keith Fossen, who filed the amendment on behalf of Save the Bluffs.

Overby said the Mining Study Committee already discussed the possibility of an overlay district, including adopting a similar zoning code in neighboring Pepin County that prohibits mining operations and limits truck traffic along the Great River Road.

"We talked about it and we didn't think it's a feasible thing right now to do," Overby said.

The committee concluded the greater amount of industry on the Minnesota side of the river would make it difficult to implement Pepin County's ordinance in Goodhue County, Overby added.

"I think it really is comparing apples to oranges," Rechtzigel said.

Fossen said the county should extend the moratorium for another year so PAC discussion of an overlay district could be done before the county receives mining applications.

County staff will review Save the Bluffs' filing before bringing it to the PAC for consideration, which could come as early as the commission's next scheduled meeting Aug. 19.

The County Board will hold a public hearing and potentially make a final vote on the fate of the mining moratorium Aug. 6.