Conservation Minnesota

Environmental Films Can Influence Our Law

JohnHellandbiopicI’ve seen quite a few movies lately.  Fortunately, most of them have been good.  Two with strong environmental themes were especially good:  “Chasing Ice”, by James Balog, on the disappearance of glaciers; and “The Price of Sand”, by James Tittle, on the growth of silica sand mining.

I saw the latter film last week.  Tittle is a St. Paul producer and director who became interested in sand mining when a proposed facility popped up near his mother’s home in Hay Creek Township, south of Red Wing.  His film concentrates on the sand mining in western Wisconsin, with lessons for Minnesota because of pending legislation here to control the fast growth of silica sand facilities.

Tittle’s film speaks about the lax regulations in Wisconsin, how frac sand companies are using deceptive practices in acquiring land that can pit communities and neighbors against one-another, how hills and bluffs are being scraped apart, and how constant sand truck traffic can bring tremendous dust and overwhelm small town and county roadways.

What has happened in Wisconsin surely has repercussions for Minnesota.  Minnesota Public Radio reported last week that there are now 17 operating sand mining facilities here, and 21 more that are proposed in the bluff country of the southeast.  And, with less than two weeks left in our legislative session, it remains unclear what new legislation on silica sand mining may pass.

A provision to restrict sand mining within 25 feet of the water table, and less than a mile from trout streams, failed to pass last week in the Senate omnibus game and fish bill.  Senator Matt Schmitt, from Red Wing, has been pushing for stronger state regulation on increased sand mining, but it now looks like there won’t be a state moratorium to study the issue, and that a special sand tax appears unlikely.

Jim Tittle’s timely film surely puts a new spotlight on the impacts of fast-growth silica sand mining.  Citizens and legislators alike should take notice on what is happening in western Wisconsin, and try to ensure that the industry doesn’t run roughshod over local government rules and ordinances here. Tourism by trout stream fishers and those that explore the bluff country scenery is potentially affected.

The legislature should step up to the plate before their deadline and make sure that state law is protective of the southeast landscape.

About John Helland

John Helland
John Helland is a history graduate of the University of Minnesota. He served as the nonpartisan legislative research analyst for the Minnesota House of Representatives after graduation. He worked extensively on environment and natural resources legislation and issues, and was the primary nonpartisan research staffer for the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance committees from 1971 to 2008.
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