Houston County Board chairman Jack Miller says the county may reconsider its frac sand mining policies in the wake of a Winona County court ruling.
Winona County District Court Judge Mary Leahy last month dismissed a challenge to Winona County’s ban on industrial frac sand mining. The ruling could open the door for other counties to institute their own bans.
Miller said he’s discussed the court’s decision with Houston County Attorney Sam Jandt and plans to meet with Jay Squires, the attorney who represented Winona County in the case, to consider its implications.
“I don’t recommend a knee-jerk reaction,” Miller said at a county board meeting last week. “We want to make sure as we move one way or another based on what has occurred in Winona that we do it with sound reasoning that makes sense for Houston County.”
Miller told an opponent of frac sand mining at the meeting, who was eager for Houston County to outlaw the practice, to “stay tuned.”
However, Jandt struck a note of caution for opponents of sand frac mining who may expect that the Winona County decision will give the impetus to other counties to follow suit. He noted that the landowners and the mining company that filed the challenge to the Winona County ban have 60 days to appeal Leahy’s decision.
The ruling only applies to the specific situation in Winona County, Jandt said. An appeal, which could end up in the Minnesota Supreme Court, might be the only way to provide legal clarity on the constitutionality of frac sand mining bans.
“It would be great in some senses if this was appealed because it would create some case law and give us some guidance and a template of what our options are,” Jandt said. “This really is uncharted water.”
It’s also unclear if a majority of the Houston County Commissioners would support a ban on frac sand mining, which refers to the mining of silica sand used to extract oil and natural gas through a process known as hydraulic fracturing.
Miller, speaking this week, said he would “rather not say” if he supported a ban on frac sand mining and another county commissioner, Fred Arnold, also declined to give his position. Arnold said he wanted to wait for further court action to see if Houston County should make changes to its policies and noted that the county already has a “restrictive” sand mining ordinance.
“We’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it,” he said about any possible frac sand mining ban in Houston County.
According to Houston County Zoning Administrator Aaron Lacher there currently are no active frac sand mines in the county.
La Crescent resident Jeremy Chipps, who has spoken against frac sand mines at several county board meetings, said the county commissioners should not delay banning the practice in the county. Chipps said the environmental risks posed by frac sand mining outweighed other concerns.
The Houston County Board came close to instituting a frac sand mining ban in 2015, only to reverse course after disagreements over the wording of the ban.