Controversial frack sand operation advances in Clayton County

Clayton County board doesn't include any of 16 proposed restrictions

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ELKADER — The Clayton County Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously recommended approval Tuesday of a request to rezone 746 acres from agricultural to heavy industrial to facilitate underground mining of the silica sand used in the hydraulic fracturing process of extracting oil and natural gas.

“We are pleased with the result,” said Kyle Pattison, president of the Pattison Sand Co., the state’s only frack sand mine, which requested the zoning change late last year.

The 11-member commission declined to include in its recommendation any of the 16 restrictions proposed by the five-member Mine Reserve Expansion Study Committee, which during the past eight months met 12 times for 31 hours of input and discussion.

Those proposed restrictions covered topics ranging from air and water quality to noise, traffic and impacts on natural scenery.

Pattison said some of the proposed restrictions would put the company at a competitive disadvantage and “others are already covered by existing laws.”

During the public forum portion of the meeting, several speakers urged the commission to include the proposed restrictions in its recommendation to the Board of Supervisors.

“There is a broad consensus that the restrictions are needed,” said Daryl Bruxvoort of Elkader, a spokesman for the “Say No for Now” movement, which has gathered more than 300 petition signatures urging county officials to conduct more in-depth research before ruling on the rezoning request.

Mike Finnegan, a member of both the study committee and the Planning and Zoning Commission, moved that the commission recommend that the Board of Adjustment consider adding two of the proposed restrictions regarding water quality and well testing. Finnegan’s motion died for lack of a second.

More than 30 Pattison employees, most of them wearing orange safety vests, attended the meeting and several spoke during the public forum, attesting that the company provides good-paying jobs and treats its employees well.

Several landowners who have contracted with Pattison to permit mining on their property also spoke favorably of their dealings with the company.

Tim Adkins, Pattison’s director of health and safety, said the company “has a genuine focus on the well-being of employees, the public and the environment.”

What began as a simple zoning change request, he said, became a divisive issue because of “unfounded rumors, fears and falsehoods” introduced into the discussion.

The supervisors will hold a public hearing on the zoning change request at 1 p.m. Monday.

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