By Emily Bialkowski
While Houston County has set a public hearing date of March 5 at 9 a.m. to discuss extending the frac sand mining moratorium, neighboring Fillmore County is on the precipice of approving a mine that may send up to 120 trucks through Houston County on any given day.
The item was casually brought to Houston County Engineer Brian Pogodzinski’s attention at a meeting in Winona after a Fillmore County representative mentioned that an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) on a proposed mine is currently under public review – a review period that only lasts for 30 days.
The unexpected news immediately drew Pogodzinski’s attention, as well as the attention of Houston County Environmental Services Director Rick Frank. Both notified the Houston County Board at its Feb. 19 meeting.
“The reason we’re bringing this to you is it’s going to have effects on residents in Houston County. The 30 page EAW on this mine contains all the same stuff we’re studying with our own frac sand ordinances. I’m disappointed we were not contacted earlier,” Pogodzinski said.
The proposed Rein Quarry expansion project is just two miles from the Houston County border in Highland.
Pogodzinski drafted a letter to the Fillmore County zoning administrator and the Fillmore County engineer stating several concerns, some of which include:
• Houston County road use
• Hours of hauling
• Stormwater runoff leaving the site
• Odors, noise and dust
• Air quality/emissions
• Potential groundwater impacts
• Being informed and involved sooner so details can be discussed prior to the publication of an EAW
• Notifying Spring Grove, Spring Grove Schools and Eitzen governing bodies
• Hwy. 44 reconstruction this spring in Spring Grove.
Pogodzinski said the project’s traffic control plans include, “Use Hwy. 43 to Hwy. 44 then head east through Spring Grove down Hwy. 76 and turn at Eitzen on County 2 to New Albin.”
Pogodzinski asked the county board chair to sign the document with the board’s blessing, and the board agreed to do so.
Commissioners echoed Pogodzinski’s concerns and wanted to know what kind of authority Houston County had over such a proposal. Unfortunately, the answer is not much, though Frank said the counties are trying to coordinate on these types of issues to avoid them in the future.
“What’s going to happen is our comments will be sent to Fillmore County and it’s up to them to comment back saying whether the items will require more study or explain how they are addressing our concerns,” Pogodzinski said.
“Ultimately it’s up to them to approve or deny the EAW. It’s difficult – if they don’t start or stop in our county – to tell them what to do.”
Frank said neighboring counties do recognize a need to be notified and work together. “That discussion has been going on. We do have some thoughts on how to address that with the permitting process,” Frank said.
In this instance, however, the lines of communication appear limited.