Northeast Iowa could get some help from the University of Iowa to study the health and economic impacts of frac-sand mining on the region.
At Monday's meeting of the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors, Lyle Otte, representing the Winneshiek County Protectors, a group which recently formed to monitor the effects of frac-sand mining in Winneshiek County, said his group had been in contact with two departments at the University of Iowa regarding two separate studies.
The first, a request for a public health-impact study, was sent to the university's occupational and environmental health department. The second, requesting an economic impact study, was sent to the college's school of urban and regional planning.
Otte said last week he heard from Dr. David Osterberg of the U of I's occupational and environmental health department.
"He said yes, they were interested. He just wasn't sure about the timing yet," Otte told the Board.
Otte said Osterberg seemed interested in doing a study in Winneshiek County, but would, perhaps be able to study Allamakee and Clayton counties as well.
The Winneshiek County Planning and Zoning Commission recently scheduled a fact-finding public hearing on whether or not to impose a 24-month moratorium on the issuance of conditional-use permits for frac-sand mining for Tuesday, May 14, at 7 p.m. in the large courtroom of the Winneshiek County Courthouse. The Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors will have the final say in the matter.
The Commission is actively seeking evidence-based research from both proponents and opponents of a moratorium.
Otte told the Board the fact U of I is interested is just one more reason for a moratorium.
"We should follow the precautionary principal," said Otte.
Otte said he suggested the university study the Pattison mine in Clayton County where "significant mining" is going on.
Supervisor Dennis Karlsbroten asked Otte if the research group would be willing to cross state lines to conduct the study (in Wisconsin or Minnesota).
"Probably not, but I don't know. I'll ask him," said Otte.
During Otte's presentation, there was a brief discussion about the status of things in Allamakee County, which is several months into an 18-month moratorium on frac-sand mining.
"This is a regional issue," said Otte.
In addition, Otte said the economic-impact study would likely wait until the next academic year (starting in the fall), as the department is currently "booked up."
"He said they're interested for 2014," said Otte, adding the study would be another reason to impose a moratorium.
WCP member Dick Janson added he believes the Allamakee County Protectors would also be interested in similar studies.
"The university prefers that requests come from governmental bodies. It would be better for the study to be requested by the Board of Supervisors (than by WCP) as a governing body of Winneshiek County.
"Their call for proposals will be sometime this summer. I imagine we would want to be timely and get it in," said Janson.
Winneshiek County Auditor Ben Steines pointed out the irony is if the Board does put a moratorium on mining, there would not be a frac-sand mine in the county for the U of I to study.
"We urge them to take a look at Clayton County. Perhaps what they found in their research could determine what the impact would be on Allamakee and Winneshiek counties," said Janson.