County board still considering frac sand mining moratorium

By Charlie Warner
Argus News Editor

The controversial issue of frac sand mining in Houston County once again surfaced during last week’s county board meeting.

Board Chairman Jack Miller reported that he, County Highway Engineer Brian Pogodzinski, County Zoning Administrator Bob Scanlan and Environmental Services Officer Rick Frank attended an informational meeting in Winona. At the meeting a number of persons from western Wisconsin, where frac sand mining has been conducted for a number of years, discussed various issues that have cropped up.

“There are a lot of issues to consider,” Miller noted. “We talked about damages to county and township roads, water tables, air pollution and the reclamation of the land. I feel we need to gather as much information as we can and then schedule a number of public hearings.

“In fairness to all parties, we need to look at both sides of this,” Miller continued. “Right now, if someone applies for a mining permit, we have 60 days to review it and are allowed for a 60-day extension, but that’s it. If we don’t take any action on the request within 120 days, the permit is approved, due to lack of action.”

Commissioner Tom Bjerke cautioned if the county does not pass a moratorium on frac sand mining, the county only has 120 days to review all the issues.

“I feel the county should impose the moratorium now. That would give us time to do our homework,” Commissioner Justin Zmyewski said. “Winona County approved a three-month moratorium. I don’t think that would allow us enough time to research all the issues. Look how long the airport expansion study has taken. We need to make sure we have all the facts before we approve any permits.”

Frank suggested that the county board, planning commission and members of the county staff should take a field trip to one of the mines in operation to get a better idea of what it entails. Boardmembers agreed and will work on scheduling a trip in the near future.

Miller added that County Attorney Jamie Hammell is in the process of putting together some type of recommendation for the next meeting.

In other board action:

Banding approved for Frank

The board approved the recommended banding change of Environmental Services Officer Rick Frank from C-52 to D-61.

The board approved the recommendation made by County HR Director Tess Arrick Kruger last July only to rescind the motion due to the on-going MAPE Union certification process. After that the matter was put on hold due to the 2011 union negotiations.

Kruger said the banding is tied to comparable worth, the amount of responsibility the position requires and is then reviewed by a third party.

The change in banding, which is retroactive to March 23, 2011, results in an increase in salary from $63,294 to $66,019.

Ralph Tuck to retire

Root River Soil and Water Conservation District Manager Ralph Tuck informed the board that he will be retiring from his position as of Feb. 23. Tuck, who has worked for the RRSWCD for the past 22 years, will be taking a job with ABLE.

Workforce Development

During the Human Services meeting, the county board approved the 2012 contract with Workforce Development. The 12-month contact will be for $92,000.

Last year the county spent $69,000 for services with Workforce Development, which was prorated because it wasn’t a 12-month contract.

SSIS reporting issues

The county discussed billing issues with the Human Services Social Services Information System (SSIS).

Miller voiced concern that the county was missing out on state reimbursements for services Human Services staff performs that isn’t billed properly.

Due to the fact that interim Human Services Director Deb Rock could not be at the meeting, the board agreed to review the reports with Rock at the next Human Services meeting.