On November 22, the Board of Commissioners of Winona County, Minnesota voted to enact the first countywide ban on frac sand mining, processing, storage, and transport operations. The decisions was the result of a 17-month effort led by the Land Stewardship Project (LSP) that included massive grassroots organization of County residents and a report by Apparatus’ Leili Fatehi providing the first comprehensive analysis on legal and practical justifications for the ban. The ban is a demonstration of the power of local land use control in the face of great political pressure by powerful industry lobby.
A year and a half ago, it was Minnesota’s Houston County that was poised to be the first to ban frac sand mining operations. But, less than a month after a unanimous preliminary vote in favor of the ban, a majority of Houston County commissioners voted against the ban and indicated a preference for enacting stringent regulations on frac sand operations instead. The switch came after the Houston County Attorney, who previously supported the legality of a ban, changed his mind and stated that a ban would be legally suspect.
Apparatus was asked by LSP to determine whether and to what extend Winona County has the legal authority to ban frac sand mining through its land use and zoning powers, as well as to evaluate the comparative legal and practical merits of a ban versus regulations. The report concluded that, not only would a zoning ban on frac sand operations be fully within the County’s legal authority, but that:
“Opting to regulate frac sand operations would saddle the County with tremendous administrative and financial burdens, as well as considerable liability and litigation risks, in order to achieve outcomes that still place the community at higher risk of environmental, health, and economic harms than an outright ban.”
The report helped to inform the Winona County Attorney and Commissioners on the merits and language of the adopted ban.
We congratulate our friends in Winona County and at the Land Stewardship Project on this momentous win for their community and environment. We here at Apparatus are always eager to provide legal, policy, and strategic support to efforts that serve the common good and environmental sustainability.
*photo credit: Johanna Rupprecht