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Guest Commentary: Frac Sand Gold Rush Will Hurt Our Economy and Environment

Fri, Mar 29th, 2013
Posted in All Commentary

By Councilor Lynn Schoen, City of Wabasha

As a city of Wabasha Council member I am very concerned about the negative impact the frac sand industry will have on my community. This type of large scale intensive strip mining and the truck traffic and transportation issues that come with it are entirely new to southeast Minnesota.

So far this issue has been left primarily to local governments to deal with and towns like Wabasha are struggling. It is critical that our state legislature act this year to establish some regional standards for this industry to protect the area’s water, air, roads and quality of life. Senator Matt Schmit is moving legislation that does this in Senate File 786. Sen. Schmit’s bill contains what we need to protect southeast Minnesotans a process to create state level pollution standards; an in-depth environmental study that will help us look at the cumulative effects on a larger scale and most importantly a moratorium while that is being done.

This is a common sense approach that protects our community from the outside investors wanting to force this industry into our community. Wabasha now has a frac sand transfer facility setting up in our town. Semi’s coming across the Mississippi River from Wisconsin will dump frac sand to be stored and transferred to rail. Silica dust, truck traffic and diesel fumes are a few of the negative impacts that our town will suffer. This company was not welcome but pushed its way in through threats of lawsuits and claims that Federal law pre-empted the project from environmental review because of its connection to the railroad.

This project will generate 600 truck trips a day through our small town. We have a second company wanting to push in which would mean 900 truck trips through our town.

The fact is that the frac sand industry is at odds with the economy of Wabasha. We are a historic Mississippi River town and proud home of the National Eagle Center which attracts up to 100,000 people a year. Tourism related businesses in Wabasha County generated over 1.5 million dollars in taxes. We have over 700 jobs in the tourism industry in Wabasha County.

We are part of the Great River Road. Thousands of bikers, antique cars and bicyclists drive the loop around Lake Pepin starting with the 100+ mile garage sale in May and ending with Octoberfest activities. We are known as a peaceful, quiet, safe place to experience the great Mississippi River and the stunning landscape she has created. 900 truck trips a day will change that.

There are so many questions regarding the impact this business will have on our local towns. Who can answer how many people will choose not to do business or vacation in our area because they won’t want to deal with the truck issues.

How many Wisconsin residents won’t continue their health care needs in Wabasha’s hospital and clinic or shop at the grocery store, or eat out at many of our fine restaurants? How many small businesses and the jobs they provide, will be collateral damage? How much traffic can a neighborhood tolerate in terms of diesel emissions? This transload facility, for example, is situated right in the middle of a neighborhood. Wabasha ranks in the top 15% of the state for diesel emissions already. Finally, how do we train our law enforcement to identify concerns having to deal with these businesses? 80-90% of Wisconsin frac sand businesses were non-compliant according to recent information released by the Wisconsin DNR. Some of these companies are from Minnesota but are doing business in Wisconsin. I strongly support Sen. Schmit’s Senate File 786 and applaud his leadership on this issue.

We don’t know what the acceptable particulate matter size and volume before our air does damage to our lungs from silicosis because there currently are no outdoor standards for those living within a certain vicinity of an operation. We don’t know how much silica sand we can stand to lose from our aquifers before it’s too much.

We haven’t had a hydrology study done for our area. I urge others to contact their state Senators and Representative and urge them to help Sen. Schmit in getting this bill passed before the frac sand industry does the harm in southeast Minnesota that it has done in Wisconsin.

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