By 4-3 vote, planning commission recommends one-year moratorium

Close to 200 persons turned out for the Houston County Planning & Zoning Commission’s public hearing on a proposed moratorium on silica frac sand mining in the county. After listening to close to 90 minutes of testimony, both pro and con, the commission passed a motion to recommend a one-year moratorium on frac sand mining to the Houston County Board by a 4-3 vote. Photo by Charlie Warner

By Charlie Warner
Argus News Editor

After listening to about 90 minutes of public comments concerning a possible moratorium on silica frac sand mining in Houston County provided by 26 different residents of Southeast Minnesota, the Houston County Planning and Zoning Board voted 4-3 to recommend a one-year moratorium to the Houston County Board.

About 200 persons attended the Feb. 13 meeting, which was held in the lower level conference room at the County Justice Center. The majority of those who came forward to voice their opinions urged the planning board to recommend the one-year moratorium.

At the beginning of the meeting County Commissioner Justin Zmyewski, who is also a member of the planning board, explained that the proposed moratorium was not the first step in denying permits to mine frac sand in the county. The moratorium would be put in place to provide the county with time to examine all of the issues the new mining industry might pose and put the proper regulations in place to address these issues.

County Zoning Administrator Bob Scanlan went through the current county ordinances dealing with mining practices and then answered some questions that pertained to those ordinances.

Persons wishing to testify before the planning board were asked to sign up to speak and given a three-minute limit.

The following is a short synopsis of what each of the 26 persons had to say.

• Nicholas Culhane, Rushford, asked why the county was proposing a one-year moratorium when Winona and Fillmore counties have three-month moratoriums.

• Kelly Stanage, Houston Township, supported the one-year moratorium and said safety and public health issues out-weighed the promise of jobs and economic development.

• Paul LeDue, Fountain (Fillmore County), said this is more of a regional issue. The aquifers that residents of SE Minnesota get their water from isn’t separated by county lines. He urged Houston County officials to do their homework first.

• Jeff Kruckow, Houston County, felt a three-month moratorium would be sufficient. He pointed out that some farms have minerals that landowners should be able to profit from. But he didn’t want the situation to turn into a circus.

• Bryan Van Gorp, Yucatan Township, supported the one-year moratorium and said he didn’t think it would be fair to have a few landowners take all the profits from this and leave the damaged land behind for the rest to deal with.

• John Griggs, Yucatan Township, told the board he was in favor of the one-year moratorium and had a petition signed by over 300 Houston County residents who felt the same way.

• Sue Van Gorp, Yucatan township, supported the one-year moratorium and predicted frac sand mining in the county would only provide a few jobs for a little while. She asked the board to consider the water, air and noise pollution issues, as well as the damage to rural roads.

• Amanda Griggs, Yucatan Township, said a three-month moratorium would not provide for enough time to study all the issues. She asked who would be monitoring the large mines if they were permitted to operate in the county.

• Tricia Runningen, Mound Prairie Township, supported the one-year moratorium to give the county time to research all the issues and learn from other counties that have already permitted the mining.

• Ken Tschumper, La Crescent Township supported the one-year moratorium so the county would have time to put the proper ordinances in place. He suggested the county create a study committee comprised of persons who were both pro and con to frac sand mining and develop a comprehensive plan.

• Donna Buckbee, Yucatan Township, said that although she wants to see everyone in the county prosper, the beauty and natural resources, along with the health of Houston County residents must come first. She encouraged the board to support the one-year moratorium.

• Steve Hartwick, Money Creek Township, supported the one-year moratorium because government doesn’t work fast enough to put all the necessary rules and regulations in place in a shorter time frame.

• Lowell Botcher, Houston County, said he was concerned the one-year moratorium would shut down his operation. He currently mines sand for road construction and farm animal bedding. He was informed the moratorium would not affect his business.

• Sarah Wexler Mann, Houston County, asked why everyone was in such a big hurry to begin frac sand mining. She encouraged the board to support the one-year moratorium because it would provide everyone to better educate themselves.

• Rita LeDue, Foutain (Fillmore County) urged the board to consider the potential damage frac sand mining would have on the region’s aquifers and also to support the one-year moratorium.

• Mike Field, Winnebago Township, said he lives near an open-pit mine (not for frac sand) and is fully aware of all the issues mining in this region pose. He pointed out that there has not been a single gravel or sand mine in Houston County that has gone through the reclamation process county ordinance mandates once they have been closed down.

• Eric Johnson, Houston Township, said he supports common sense and felt current county ordinances dealing with mining are adequate. He feels everyone needs to look at the potential jobs and economic boost frac sand mining would have for the county.

• Chris Ranzenberger, Houston County, said he enjoys breathing  fresh air and encouraged anyone who doesn’t think frac sand mining poses an air pollution problem needs to travel to Winona and see all of the dust from the transportation of the silica sand on cars parked there.

• Richard Shild, Money Creek, asked the board to support the one-year moratorium and have all the questions answered first before allowing frac sand mining in the county. He said the industry is in its infancy in the tri-state area and is concerned about the long-term affects.

• Carol Sweeney, Brownsville Township, expressed concern about area wells. She asked what would happen if all the wells in an area located near frac sand mining operations would go bad. Who would pay for the damages?

• Jason Slavicek, Crooked Creek Township, said he was concerned about the scenic bluffs and what impact frac sand mining would have. He said he was all in favor of mining in the county, but wondered if frac sand mining would be a good fit.

• Yvonne Krogstad, Spring Grove, said county officials need to be stewards of the land. She urged the board to obtain as much input from landowners and residents before making any decisions.

• Mary Denzer, Yucatan Township, told the board she has been a potter for many years and uses silica sand to make her pottery. She said silica sand dust poses a real health issue. She urged the board to support the one-year moratorium.

• Linda Griggs, Yucatan Township, said she attended a conference in Wisconsin that dealt with silica sand mining, which was attended by township and county officials from the tri-state area. Many issues were discussed. She said it was recommended that all counties impose a one-year moratorium on frac sand mining until more information can be obtained.

• Jeff Broberg, Elba (Winona County) got everyone’s attention when he announced that no one attending the meeting knew what they were talking about.

He said there is a “huge level of exaggeration” when it comes to the health issues of frac sand mining and that the information discussed was not accurate. He also said an 1,100-acre mine would supply all of the frac gasification mining needs in the U.S. for decades.

Broberg said the area has a very valuable asset to the area in frac sand and didn’t feel the mining had any negative environmental issues.

He opined a three-month moratorium was all that was needed.

• Scott Leddy, Rushford, told the group that he has silicosis, due to working around silica sand. He said it is a very terrible affliction and noted he has to have his lungs vacuumed out on a regular basis. He urged that everyone take a good hard look at all the health issues first.

The vote

“I feel it’s time for us to do the right thing and recommend a  one-year moratorium,” Zymenski said. And made a motion to recommend to the county board for a one-year moratorium. His motion was seconded by Dan Griffin.

Charlie Wieser said he felt a one-year moratorium was too long. He pointed out that Winona County’s was for three months and Goodhue county’s was for six months.

Glenn Kruse said he felt a one-year moratorium was a good idea because it would give the county enough time to study all the issues.

It was pointed out that because a moratorium is an interim zoning ordinance, it can be lifted sooner if and when the county feels enough information has been gathered and the proper rules and regulations have been put in place.

The motion passed 4-3 with Zmyewski, Griffin, Kruse and Garland Moe voting in favor and Wieser, Terry Rosendahl and Bruce Lee voting against it.

The recommendation will now be brought to the county board.

You can contact Charlie Warner at [email protected]