For Immediate Release: July 30, 2015, Caledonia, Minnesota, (Houston County).
Houston County administration continues to be under fire since February 18, 2015 when the County Board voted unanimously to ban frac (silica) sand mining, only to overturn the decision at their next meeting. This backpedaling by three County Commissioners left the county in limbo and under the jurisdiction of the existing mining ordinance.
Recently, at the regular meeting of the Houston County Planning Commission on July 23, F.R.E.E. (www.freehoustonsand.com) captured on video-tape, a motion by Planning Commission member Rich Schild aimed at getting non-confirming mines under control. The motion was seconded.
"Getting a handle” on these mines is a priority Planning Commission Chair, Dan Griffin has voiced several times over the past two years.
There are 130 mines in Houston County. Twelve have permits, leaving 118 mines without permits. These are referred to by the county ordinance and Minnesota Statute as "nonconforming uses," and have been referred to by the county as "grandfathered."
Planning Commission member Schild moved that the Planning Commission recommend to the County Board that they direct the Zoning Administrator to vigorously enforce the existing ordinance with regard to nonconforming mines. Schild asserted that if they just enforce the ordinance, they would be able to get a handle on the 118 nonconforming mines in the county.
Under the existing ordinance, if a mine has not been active for 12 months, the landowner must re-apply for a permit to resume mining operations. Active mines that have been legally operating as a non-conforming mine must have a reclamation plan on file to be in compliance.
Dan Griffin said that would shut them down. Rich Schild responded that it would not shut them down; they would simply need to apply for a permit. The fee for a Conditional Use Permit in Houston County is $500.00.
Griffin kept pitching his own draft ordinance, which earlier failed to gain approval by the County Board. Griffin’s draft ordinance weakens regulation on nonconforming mines.
Schild argued that the existing ordinance handles it--all they need to do is enforce it.
Is it fair to require some mines to apply for a permit and follow regulations in the ordinance, while others are free to mine without regulation simply because their grandfather extracted material at some point prior to 1967?
Zoning Administrator Bob Scanlan claimed he's been trying to get them under control, but said County Attorney Sam Jandt has twice stopped him from sending out a letter to mine owners. Office worker Holly Felton, who was present to take minutes for the meeting, interrupted the commission’s deliberations to explain this was due to a potential conflict of interest on the part of Scanlan, who owns one of the grandfathered mines.
Earlier this year, results of an internal investigation into the conduct of the Zoning Administrator, found he had violated the county’s ethics policy on several occasions.
The votes on enforcing the existing ordinance were as follows:
Rich Schild: yes
Ed Hammell: yes
Dana Kjome abstained
Dan Griffin: no
Terry Rosendahl: no
Glen Kruse: no
Larry Hafner: no
If the ordinance is actually enforced, some mines may need to apply for a permit. It is unclear how many, as the zoning office has repeatedly refused to provide a list of active mines in the county.
The purpose of the Houston County Zoning Ordinance is to protect the public. Four of seven planning commission members voted against enforcing the ordinance. What does this say about the Houston County Planning Commission? Will 118 mines in the county be allowed to operate without following county law?
Houston County community groups including F.R.E.E. continue to press for a ban on frac sand mining, but Commissioners opposing a ban have kept the issue at a standstill. This latest development from the group responsible for the ordinance further illustrates the dysfunction in Houston County government. A majority of the Houston County Planning Commission and Board of Commissioners appear to have forgotten their purpose.
Additional action on this topic may be discussed at the upcoming County Board Meeting (Tuesday Aug. 4th ).
More information www.freehoustonsand.com
F.R.E.E. 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 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 (silica) 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