Frac sand closure ahead
By Emily Bialkowski
Though seemingly quiet for a while, Houston County’s dealings with the sand mining industry continue.
County Commissioner Jack Miller reported that he recently attended a meeting with Minnesota Sands, their attorney and the county’s attorney to address disparities between the two.
The county hopes to regulate mining, while Minnesota Sands continues to push for mining rights they say they have under an existing conditional use permit.
“We presented what we felt the county needed in order to move forward,” Miller told the county board Sept. 25.
He said the gathering ended with the two attorneys agreeing to correspond.
“I haven’t heard anything from either at this point,” Miller said.
In a related matter, the frac sand study committee is prepared to draft an ordinance addressing sand mining in the county.
“We’re working diligently toward it,” Miller said, adding, “We want it to be defensible and encompassing so we don’t in six months say, ‘Oh gosh, we should have done that.’”
He said the committee is using what it can from other counties that have dealt with sand mining and incorporating Houston County’s interests.
Commissioner Teresa Walter reminded the board that, “Enforcement is a real issue.”
Her sentiment did not fall on deaf ears. “It’s something we have to figure out,” Commissioner Justin Zmyewski said.
There was no action on the topic.
County Attorney Jamie Hammell recommended the board go into closed session to discuss a demand letter she received that threatens litigation against the county.
Upon re-entering open session she reported that their discussion was informative in nature; that no claim has been filed yet; and that she was reporting on communications she has had on the matter.
She did say that not acting on the demand letter could lead to litigation.
Hammell also recommended the board enter a class action lawsuit against Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which was initiated by Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman.
His lawsuit aims to recover deed transfer taxes these entities owe for real estate they’ve sold over the last six and half years. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac claim that they are exempt from having to pay this tax – a tax that every private seller is required to pay in order to transfer title to real property, a memo from Freeman states.
The memo further states, “For most transactions, the tax is .0033 of the sale price. Counties are required to remit 97 percent of the funds to the State of Minnesota and retain the remaining three percent for themselves.”
The board agreed to enter the lawsuit.
According to County Finance Director Carol Lapham, as it stands with the budgets that were submitted by departments, the board needs to either cut or find new revenue sources to the tune of $964,415.
And that, mind you, is if the board intends to utilize the entire proposed nine percent levy increase in 2013.
The amount to be cut will need to be greater than that if it is the board’s intention to decrease the levy and to not use fund balance, Lapham said.
In continuation of a discussion from the Sept. 17 county board meeting, Robin Danielson, Money Creek Township resident, again asked the board to not allow golf carts on a portion of Hwy. 26 that leads from Money Creek Haven Campground to the town.
She presented 30 signatures against the proposal and asked how many she would need to sway the board.
With the absence of the county auditor, board members admitted they weren’t sure but assured Danielson someone would provide that information in the coming days.
Resident Dwight Mierau also expressed his discontent with the proposal. “It’s a lot of golf carts all day up and down the streets. It’s become a nuisance,” he said.
The board said they were glad he came forward because they were under the impression that Danielson was the only resident against the idea.
“It was not a problem until last summer. I have nothing against the Haven, but I’m like a side show up there,” Mierau added.
The board expects an opinion from County Engineer Brian Pogodzinski on the matter at their next meeting.
Should an ordinance be proposed to allow such activity, a public hearing will need to take place.
Commissioner Jack Miller received a letter from the Federal Aviation Agency condemning the drag racing that took place at the airport in July.
The letter reminds the board that they are charged with the safe operation of the airport and not fulfilling that duty can result in the revocation of funding.
Contact Emily Bialkowski at email@example.com.