For Immediate Release – July 20, 2015 - Minneapolis, La Crescent, Caledonia, Brownsville, Houston, Hokah, Spring Grove (Houston County, Minnesota)
“We are disappointed and disagree with the appellate court's decision to allow silica sand mining within a quarter mile of a trout stream without a DNR Trout Stream Setback Permit, Kelly Stanage, F.R.E.E. Steering Committee Member. “This law is critical to protect Houston County from the devastation of frac sand mining. The DNR did the right thing by enforcing the law. We urge the DNR to appeal this ruling.” F.R.E.E. is a citizens group that is asking for an outright prohibition of frac (silica) sand mining in Houston County.
This latest development surrounds the decision of a lawsuit against the DNR filed by “Erickson” mine owner, Tracie Erickson – who is also a Houston County Sheriff’s Deputy. The DNR had informed Erickson a trout stream setback permit would be required prior to the commencement of mining operations. Erickson’s claim is that the DNR cannot require a trout stream for an already permitted mine. The DNR considers it a new project.
A cursory look at Erickson's current mining operation plan as compared to Erickson's original frac sand operation plan show the ultimate goal is the same — to extract over 2 million cubic yards of sand.
Today's decision by the appellate court, means that silica sand mining can continue at Erickson mine with a limit of 10,000 cubic yards per year.
Minnesota would be wise to learn from what's happening in Wisconsin, where the frac sand mining industry has repeatedly attempted to circumvent regulations, as well as committed numerous documented violations.
The appellate court decision relies heavily on the fact that Houston County approved the Erickson Conditional Use Permit (CUP). Many citizens, including La Crescent resident and attorney Ed Walsh, contend that Houston County's approval process for the mine has been flawed.
Enforcement is critical. The burden of enforcing 10,000 cubic yards per year will be on the Houston County Zoning Administrator. Enforcement in Houston County is triggered exclusively by citizen complaint. According to an independent investigation ordered by the County board, Scanlan has retaliated against citizens opposed to the mine, and has advocated publicly on behalf of mine owner and Sheriff’s Deputy, Tracie Erickson in violation of the County’s Code of Ethics, which requires government officials to carry out their duties impartially.
F.REE asserts that Houston County has a poor history of enforcing the existing mining ordinances and warns that unless there is a major shift in county government, residents of Houston County will be subjected to more risks from frac (silica) sand mining – from health concerns to economic impacts, dangerous road traffic and environmental damages to air and water.”
F.R.E.E. encourages Houston County residents to contact their County Commissioners if they have concerns about frac (silica) sand mining in Houston County.
Houston County, MN has been in the media spotlight since Feb. 18, when three of the five County Commissioners voted against a county-wide ban of frac sand mining, despite overwhelming support by local citizens. Families Resisting Energy Extraction (F.R.E.E), Sandpoint Times, Houston County Protectors and Houston County Government Accountability are the community groups advocating a continued effort to ban frac sand (silica) mining in Houston County. The county continues to operate under a decades-old mining ordinance that has been challenged by local groups and citizens. One of the primary complaints is that the existing ordinances of permitting and safety requirements are not being enforced by county administrators. On April 28, 2015, over 112 complaints were filed by county residents, citing failure to follow existing ordinances and putting local residents and property owners at risk from mines that are operating outside of the law.
Houston County is part of the unique “Driftless Area” of Southeast Minnesota, with the mighty Mississippi River and the Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge on the Eastern border. For more information on the frac sand mining issue, view the slide show here: “LAST CHANCE TO TALK SAND” and visit the website links below.
F.R.E.E. – Families Resisting Energy Extraction is a Minnesota-based organization of concerned citizens who are committed to educating the public and government officials about the dangers of frac sand mining and extreme energy extraction. F.R.E.E. recently joined forces with www.sandpointtimes.com, another group dedicated to stopping frac sand mining.
Key groups fighting for a ban:
www.freehoustonsand.com (Families Resisting Energy Extraction)
www.houstoncountyrealitycheck.com (Houston County Protectors)
Frac Sand Sentinal (wisair.wordpress.com/frac-sand-sentinel)
Houston County Official Website - www.co.houston.mn.us
The photo of Houston County Bluffs in our header is from Robert J. Hurt – Landscape photographer