By Emily Bialkowski
Each and every time the county discusses frac sand mining and the lack of regulation surrounding it great one-liners are sure to follow. The often emotionally-charged topic continues to occupy board and committee meetings as Houston County tries to wrap some sort of authority around mining.
At the Aug. 7 board meeting, concerned members of the public let out a few cheers and moments of applause when frac sand study committee member Kelly Stanage implored the board to acquire expert information on the topic.
“I feel you are in grave danger of not doing a good job of protecting the health, safety and welfare of residents,” Stanage said.
Murmurs from the audience grew tiresome for Commissioner Jack Miller who said to one attendee, “One more comment and you’ll be leaving the room. I’m willing to listen, but I’m not going to have cat calls.”
Civil discussion continued.
Stanage said she feels the frac sand study committee is doomed due to a “lack of process or indication of the results the county hopes to achieve.”
“What is the deliverable of this committee; a recommendation, a report? All we’ve been told is we have no authority, but what is it you wish us to spend our valuable time doing?” Stanage asked.
She said she feels concerns brought up at the committee level are trivialized and that expert opinion on soil, water and health issues are glaringly absent from discussion.
“If you allow concerns to be trivialized we will not be successful,” Stanage said, adding “Stop expressing opinions and start including experts.”
“We don’t have resources to pay for things you want,” Miller said, adding that the state admittedly lacks any kind of leadership on this.
Another point of contention Stanage brought up was the make-up of the committee and other people involved in the regulatory process.
• A sheriff’s deputy is leasing his land for frac sand;
• The Houston County attorney’s husband is apparently brokering frac sand;
• The chair of the planning and zoning commission is in the aggregate business;
• Two other members of the commission have demonstrated a pro-mining bias in their push for weak regulation on the frac sand study committee;
• The zoning administrator has a registered mine on property he owns in the county.
Commissioner Tom Bjerke said there was never any intent to formulate a biased committee.
“That committee was put together with good faith. We didn’t stack the deck in anyone’s favor. We haven’t made any decisions yet. Nothing has been put in stone that can’t be changed,” he said, adding “It is tough to sit up here and be accused of these things when you know in your heart you want to help people, but you know not everyone is going to walk away happy.”
In a related issue, the board voted in favor of proceeding with an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) on the Erickson mine.
Essentially, a group of concerned Houston County citizens petitioned to have an EAW done by garnering over 280 signatures over the course of one weekend.
The petition was handed over to the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board, who verified its validity and sent it back to Houston County for review.
With their vote, the Houston County Board agreed that an EAW is a worthwhile endeavor and will proceed with trying to put one together.
The catch many audience members expressed concern about is who will put together the EAW.
“We want a fair, accurate and thorough assessment of the Erickson mine, and we don’t feel planning and zoning is capable of handling this because we weren’t treated fairly in configuration of frac sand study group,” resident Donna Buckbee said.
The board expressed a desire to have a third-person party produce the EAW, though it remained unclear how that will transpire.
Contact Emily Bialkowski at email@example.com