Frac sand mine open for business
By Emily Bialkowski
The frac sand mine on the property of Tracie and Michelle Erickson is operational. An unprecedented turn of events forced Houston County’s hand in the matter and is preventing legal action against the county.
July 10: The Houston County Board votes to place a stop work order at the mine. A public hearing is scheduled for July 18 to discuss the property’s existing conditional use permit.
July 13: Houston County is advised by legal council to cancel the public hearing. The county auditor is instructed to follow the attorney’s advice.
July 17: The board enters into closed session for approximately one hour to discuss options with their land use attorney.
Upon re-entering open session the board votes 3 to 1 to allow mining – but not processing – at this time with the stipulation that no more than four to five truckloads drive the road per hour. Teresa Walter is the lone no vote. Jack Miller, Justin Zmyewski and Steve Schuldt vote yes with Tom Bjerke absent.
Two audience questions were entertained by the board, but when a third individual raised her hand to ask a question she was abruptly told the board is no longer discussing the issue.
“This is not a public hearing. We’re done discussing it,” Commissioner Jack Miller said, visibly agitated.
“If you can’t sit quiet we’ll have you removed,” he said after she attempted to ask why she couldn’t ask a question.
The property lies off Hwy. 16 near the border of Houston and Fillmore Counties. A conditional use permit (CUP) was approved in 1992 before industrial frac sand mining was an option. A debate on the validity of the CUP has ensued for weeks.
Native American representatives also questioned the mine in an effort to prevent the disturbance of any archaeological significant places or sacred burial grounds. They warned that disturbing such sites is a prosecutable endeavor.
A committee was formed – in light of a frac sand mine moratorium – to research and openly discuss the social, environmental and economic impact of such mines. The Erickson property, however, is grandfathered in based on the date of the CUP.
As the board sifted through piles of information it became apparent to them that the state is showing no leadership on the topic.
“I don’t think the State of Minnesota was prepared for what’s occurring. There’s definitely a void on what they have done,” Miller said.
Resident Donna Buckbee equated the situation to an unruly time in our country’s history. “There’s a sense that this county is like the wild, wild west,” she said.
Miller reiterated thoughts he expressed at previous meetings that this has become an unfortunate situation where open communication has not existed between the county and mine operator.
“I’m deeply disappointed personally… I would hope the party would come forward and say we’d like to work with you, but that didn’t happen.
“As far as the law is concerned,” Miller continued, “our land use attorney is in St. Paul and has no particular stake in Houston County other than to prevent a lawsuit.”
Miller said he would like to work cooperatively with the mine operator and property owners in a way that best protects the health and welfare of all citizens.
“These are issues we will continue to discuss with our attorney and the mine’s attorney,” he said.
To be sure, the frac sand mine moratorium is not lifted in Houston County. Discussion on how to address a future mine proposal will continue with the county eventually adopting legislation that addresses the topic.
Rick Frank, environmental services director, addressed the audience and board, saying in summary, “If we had known back then what we know now we could have took out consideration back then. But, with what we have on the books right now, it puts the county in a no-win situation. Moving forward, now that we know what the industry is about, we can address those types of things with a new ordinance.”
Contact Emily Bialkowski at firstname.lastname@example.org