ST. PAUL, Minn. - An amendment to an environmental bill that would prohibit silica sand mining near some state streams and waterways was narrowly defeated at the capitol Tuesday.
The measure in the Senate Game and Fish bill would stop silica or "frac" sand mining within a mile from any trout streams in far southeast Minnesota.
"You just want to make sure you get ahead of this," said DFL State Senator Matt Schmit, of Red Wing. "I had 10 town hall meetings in the month of March and this issue more than anything came up time and time again."
Schmit authored the provisions. He and others are concerned with environmental impacts of silica mining on trout fisheries.
"There are no state protections provided to special areas like trout streams," said state DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr, who testified in favor of the added regulation.
The DNR claims a stone quarry in Fillmore County negatively impacted groundwater, increasing the stream water temperature.
John Lenczewski, the executive director of Minnesota Trout Unlimited, says trout survive only in cold water.
"We're not opposed to silica sand mining, but our concern is if it's done in the wrong places it will disrupt that ground water and that will be the end of our trout fisheries," said Lenczewski, who indicates trout angling is a billion dollar industry in the region.
But with trout streams everywhere in Southeast Minnesota, opponents say the added regulation would effectively prohibit silica mining in that region.
Lenczewski believes there would be enough room for mining companies to still work in southeast Minnesota, and says the Minnesota River Valley would not be impacted.
He claims more accurate topographic maps show plenty of room for companies to mine.
Still, Kwilas and representatives from the Industrial Sand Council argue the added regulation would be redundant since companies already have to submit environmental impact statements.
The Senate committee ultimately agreed. The amendment failed on a largely partly-line vote by an 11-10 margin.
Yet the fight is not over. Schmit will try to attach his provisions to an omnibus bill that he says could be debated on the Senate floor in the coming days.
He believes he has a 50-50 shot of getting the necessary votes to be successful.
"Nothing is ever lost here," he said. "We're going to continue to fight the good fight."
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