County board schedules March 19 public hearing on frac sand mining

By Charlie Warner
Argus News Editor

Heeding the advice of Houston County Attorney Jamie Hammell and Environmental Services Officer Rick Frank, the county board decided not to rush into approving a moratorium on silica frac sand mining in the county.

On Feb. 13 the County Planning and Zoning Board had passed a motion by a 4-3 margin to recommend establishing a one-year moratorium to the county board.

At last week’s board meeting, the commissioners decided to schedule another public hearing to gather more information from experts in the field and area residents on the very controversial issue.

A public hearing on silica frac sand mining has been scheduled for March 19 at 6:30 p.m. in the Fine Arts Center at La Crescent-Hokah High School in La Crescent.

Frank said he has discussed the issue with the land use committee. His office has been inundated with phone calls, emails and personal visits from residents who are concerned about the issue.

“There is a lot of mis-information out on the streets,” Frank said. “I really think we need to hold another public hearing, where we can invite geologists and groundwater experts and learn more about this.

“There is a lot of support out there for the county to call for a moratorium,” Frank continued. “But I feel the county should take its time and get all the questions answered first.”

“That’s why we need the moratorium, so we have time to answer all these questions,” Commissioner Justin Zmyewski said. “The moratorium doesn’t mean we are against anything. It’s just a time out, so we can get all the facts first.”

“I feel we need to get all the information first before we make a decision to stop this,’ Commissioner Tom Bjerke said.

Hammell pointed out that what the board was really considering was an interim zoning ordinance. “There is no dire need to push this forward,” Hammell said. “This is a process that must be made in good faith. The county must have a plan in place. All the concerns must be addressed first.”

Zmyewski asked what happens if someone submits a permit to begin mining silica frac sand now.

“We have adjoining counties that have moratoriums in place,” Board Chairman Jack Miller pointed out. “We can utilize the information they have been gathering.”

Yucatan Township resident Donna Buckbee said the Minnesota Legislature was currently considering a bill that would take much of the decision-making power away from the counties. “If you don’t do something soon, you might not have the authority to do something later,’ she warned.

Hammell said she was aware of the proposed legislation and explained if passed, it would limit the amount of time a county could impose a moratorium from one year down to 90 or possibly 60 days. She added that the county has the luxury of having several area counties that are currently conducting studies on silica frac sand mining. “We can learn from them,” Hammell said.

Bjerke said it was Hammell’s recommendation to hold another public hearing before moving forward with a moratorium. He made a motion to schedule another public hearing. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Teresa Walter and unanimously approved.

“The bottom line is the health and welfare of the residents of this county,’ Miller opined. “In the same token, we really shouldn’t be reacting like Chicken Little and ‘the sky is falling.’ We need more information and hopefully this meeting will help provide just that.”

In other board action:

Human Services Department

HR director Tess Arrick Kruger informed the board that interim Social Worker Supervisor Sharen Lapham has resigned from that position effective Feb. 14, but will continue working in the Human Services Department.

Kruger asked the current department staff to send letters of application to see if there were possible candidates to hire from within. She said three persons have expressed interest in the position.

Kruger said in the past the department heads had conducted the first round of interviews and then made recommendations to the county board.

Walter said she felt it would be better if the entire county board was involved in the entire process. The rest of the board agreed. No official action was taken on this matter.
You can contact Charlie Warner at [email protected]