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Goodhue County, Minn., mining ban gets 6-month extension

RED WING, Minn. -- Silica sand mining in Goodhue County will have to hold off for at least another six months.

The County Board voted unanimously Tuesday to extend the county's mining moratorium for an additional 180 days past its Sept. 6 end date, eliciting a round of applause from an impassioned crowd of close to a hundred area residents gathered in the Government Center.

The decision is less than the one-year extension sought by citizens, but the compromise was seen as a victory, said Jody McIlrath, chairwoman of local activist group Save-the-Bluffs.

"It still means a lot of work needs to be done quickly in those six months," McIlrath said.

She said the group will now shift its focus to creating a mining overlay district, which it proposed to the county's Planning Advisory Commission last month. The district would show specifically where mining would and would not be allowed in the county.

A motion to extend the mining moratorium for another year was considered but failed by a 3-2 vote.

County Commissioners Jim Bryant and Ron Allen voted in favor of the one-year ban, while Dan Rechtzigel, Ted Seifert and Richard Samuelson voted against it.

The decision elicited a wave of boos and frustrated outcries from the audience, which included more than two dozen citizens who spoke universally in favor of the extension during the meeting's public hearing portion.

Samuelson then forwarded and Seifert seconded a follow-up motion to extend the ban for 90 days.

"I don't know if 90 days will be enough time," Bryant said in response. "I don't know where that number is coming from."

Samuelson said he felt the 90-day extension would give the state time to put together its mining advisory team while continuing to research citizens' concerns.

"I'm confident we can do this in 90 days," he said.

Rechtzigel added that he was willing to accept the motion, noting that state agencies said last week that they expect the advisory team to be ready by Oct. 1.

But his comments were interrupted by an audience member calling for a compromise at six months.

Allen then offered an amendment to the motion to make it a 180-day extension to give the Planning Advisory Commission more time to review the mining overlay district proposed by Save-the-Bluffs.

Samuelson and Seifert agreed to accept Allen's amendment, bringing the motion to a vote.

The eventual compromise came after a nearly two-hour public hearing in which citizens continued voicing concerns about the health, environmental and economic impacts of silica mining in the county.

The hearing opened with Lynne Rigg of Red Wing reciting a list of 12 reasons to ban silica mining in the county. While she read them off, audience members stood up holding signs printed with each reason -- an idea Rigg said came to her while lying in bed one night.

As the number of speakers reached double digits, a few residents began to address commissioners directly, sympathizing with the deluge of occasionally sharp criticism they had received.

"You guys are getting criticism, and I've seen some of that bounce back to speakers in previous meetings where you kind of come back at them a little bit because you don't like it," said Keith Fossen of Red Wing. "I wouldn't like it if I was in your chair."

But Fossen said the amount of criticism coming from citizens is evidence that county government has not yet won the public's trust on the issue.

The PAC will hold a public hearing Aug. 19 in the Justice Center regarding Save-the-Bluff's proposed overlay district.