Houston County progressing through sand mine issues

By Emily Bialkowski
Caledonia Argus


The Houston County Board is making headway in the complicated world of frac sand mining regulations. The board unanimously approved hiring a third party consultant to review the Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) that Minnesota Sands is producing on the proposed Erickson mine located on the border of Houston County.

Because the county has yet to finalize ordinances regulating sand mining, the county will eat the expense of a consultant to the tune of an estimated $13,508. The added cost will be absorbed in an effort to ensure environmental and community safety.

Environmental Services Director Rick Frank had to search far and wide to find a qualified consultant that doesn’t have ties to the sand mining industry in Houston County. Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc. (SEH) out of Duluth fit the bill because they not only have knowledge of sand mining issues, but also have no ties to the Erickson project.

“Right now it’s difficult trying to find a consultant that doesn’t have ties. We wanted someone without a conflict with sand and Houston County,” Frank said.

Commissioner Tom Bjerke said he felt good about SEH’s reputation as well as their qualifications. “I feel comfortable working with SEH as a third party for EAW. We’re trying to do our due diligence and we’ve worked with these guys in the past,” Bjerke said.

Frank added that SEH works with La Crosse County solid waste issues.

After approving SEH to do the consulting work, the board entertained a report from Commissioner Justin Zmyewski.

Zmyewski said he was concerned about an exchange with Minnesota Sands founder Rick Frick – during a frac sand study committee meeting – who accused the commissioner of being a liar when discussing traffic generated by sand mining. Zmyewski had documentation of Frick saying 10 loaded trucks per hour will leave a mine in Allamakee County, Iowa and a similar number will return empty. Based on that information Zmyewski said its a worthwhile topic to address while creating ordinances, but Frick became agitated by the issue.

The discussion was informative in nature and no action was taken on the matter.

He also said the study committee is grappling with water issues.

“One of the key things that keeps coming up is the water issue. The committee is struggling to know which direction to go. Fillmore County, in their ordinance, has put a no washing, water processing or chemical processing clause in their regulations,” Zmyewski said.

He said the committee is wondering if they should do the same.

“I’d be in favor of that because with the potential issues, why should we take a risk. I think getting sand out is possible without including all these other issues,” Commissioner Jack Miller said.

With that, the board agreed that the committee should, “Start designing the ordinances with language that there will be no water or chemical processing and no mining to the depth of the water table.”

In final sand mining discussions, Frank said the study committee is hitting it hard and meeting once a week at three hours at a time to draft regulations. “We’re getting closer,” he assured the commissioners.

“We’ve had a lot of really good discussion. People have beliefs one way or another that you need to respect but work through. It’s slow but it’s coming,” Frank said.


Public hearing new fees

A public hearing took place to address a new $30 fee related to “revenue recapture.” Revenue Recapture is a state program that helps counties garnish tax returns or lottery winnings from people who owe back taxes. The process mostly applies to those with mobile homes.

The county has to issue certified letters and spend time entering the claim into the system. The fee helps cover the county’s expenses and was approved unanimously.



In personnel business, the board accepted the resignation of Kelly Smith effective Dec. 7. Smith practiced in the area of child protection for Houston County since April 2009 and accepted a position with Hiawatha Valley. The board agreed to hire Chelsey Senn as her replacement at $17.89 per hour.


Closed session

The board went into closed session to discuss threatened litigation on a personnel matter. No action was taken upon returning into open session.

The Houston County Board will not be meeting on Dec. 4 but will do so on Dec. 26 to wrap up the year.