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Allamakee Co. Ordinance Places Limits on Frac Sand Mining

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WAUKON, Iowa The mining of frac sand in Allamakee County would be strictly regulated under a proposed zoning ordinance approved Monday night at a public hearing of the Planning and Zoning Commission.

"Overall, the commission did a tremendous job," said Ric Zarwell of Lansing, president of the Allamakee County Protectors, an organization that formed two years ago to oppose frac sand mining in Allamakee County.

"You came up with a more restrictive and better ordinance than I ever thought we'd get," said Doug Weymiller, who farms southwest of New Albin in an area that had been targeted for frac sand mines.

The commission drafted the ordinance during a moratorium on frac sand mining enacted by the county supervisors 14 months ago at the urging of residents who feared the practice of mining silica sand could harm the environment, degrade natural beauty and impair their quality of life.

Although Iowa has just one operating frac sand mine in Clayton County, parts of northeast Iowa and southeast Minnesota have deposits of the high quality silica sand that has been heavily mined in western Wisconsin.

The round, crush-resistant quartz particles are well suited for hydraulic fracturing, the process by which water, silica sand and chemicals are injected under high pressure into underground shale deposits to release otherwise inaccessible oil and natural gas.

Commission members "toured frac sand mines and did a lot of homework," said Nancy Everman, the group's chairwoman. The ordinance will be sent to the supervisors for two readings and a public hearing before it can take effect.

Mining interests did not attend any of the public input meetings for the ordinance, Everman said.

The ordinance would require frac sand miners to secure a conditional use permit, which would be issued only after the applicant met exacting standards.

The application itself would include the results of several required surveys, studies and plans covering road impact, geological factors, wildlife habitat, soil types and depths, wetlands, archaeological and cultural resources erosion, dust and site reclamation.

All property owners and residents within two miles of the proposed site would be notified and given a chance to comment on the proposal, and the Board of Adjustment would hold a public hearing on it.

The ordinance would require reclamation efforts to begin during, not after, mining operations, and it would require the posting of reclamation assurance bonds.

The ordinance also lays out specific requirements for assuring air and water quality. For example, mining would not be allowed within 1,000 feet of a sinkhole or other karst landscape feature, within a mile of a stream or river or within 40 feet of the ground water table.

Mining sites cannot exceed 40 acres and must be at least five miles apart and at least 2,000 feet from churches, schools or residences, according to the proposed ordinance.

Mining would be limited to daylight hours Monday through Friday.

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