Allamakee supervisors approve frac sand mining moratorium

No mining for at least 18 month while officials research potential ill effects

A sign opposing a proposed frac sand mine is seen on a mailbox along Black Hawk Rd. on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012, southwes
A sign opposing a proposed frac sand mine is seen on a mailbox along Black Hawk Rd. on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012, southwest of New Albin, Iowa. The road leads to land owned by David Mitchell. (Jim Slosiarek,/The Gazette-KCRG)

WAUKON – No frac sand will be mined in Allamakee County for at least 18 months following action Monday by the county supervisors.

By unanimous vote, the supervisors approved a temporary moratorium to allow time for the Planning and Zoning Commission to study the potential ill effects of frac sand mining and to make corresponding amendments to the county’s zoning ordinance and comprehensive plan.

“This is not over. It’s just starting. Now the hard work begins,” said Supervisors Chairman Larry Schellhammer.

The Planning and Zoning Commission has begun researching the issue and will make recommendations to the supervisors by July of 2014, Zoning Administrator Tom Blake said.

Supervisor Dennis Koenig said more than 98 percent of the feedback he received from county residents indicated support for the moratorium.

Ric Zarwell of Lansing, a spokesman for the Allamakee County Protectors, a group formed to oppose frac sand mining, thanked the supervisors for listening to their constituents.

“Twenty to 30 years from now, Allamakee County could be an island of beauty in the tri-state area,” Zarwell said.

Zarwell referred to the "sand rush" under way in neighboring Wisconsin and Minnesota, where scores of mines are extracting the specialized sand used in 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.

The group formed last fall after a Minnesota firm began pursuing at least three mining leases in northeast Allamakee County. All applications for conditional use permits have since been withdrawn.

Zarwell said the group hopes “to stop frac sand mining cold.” If that is not possible, he said, the moratorium will allow formulation of rules to protect the environment, public health and county infrastructure – mainly the roads that would be pounded by heavy truck traffic.

No one spoke against the moratorium at Monday’s meeting. Lansing resident Maynard Johnson, however, urged the supervisors to keep an open mind.

“You can restore mined areas to natural conditions,” said Johnson, whose farmland north of Lansing is believed to have deposits of Jordan sandstone.

Geologists say Allamakee County's Jordan sandstone is well suited for fracking because its grains are round, hard, crush-resistant and of an ideal size, and the deposits are close to the surface and easily accessible.

The Pattison Sand Company operates the state’s only active frac sand mine near the town of Clayton along the Mississippi River in Clayton County.After approving the first reading of the ordinance allowing the moratorium, the supervisors voted to waive the second and final readings and then voted to pass the ordinance effective immediately.

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