By Emily Bialkowski
The Frac Sand Study Committee was disbanded by the Houston County Board April 19 “to move to the next level in order to keep the process moving forward,” as the motion stated.
The committee met for about a year to research frac sand mining and ceased meeting in November 2012 while county staff drafted a frac sand ordinance with their land use attorney.
On Feb. 12 attorney Jay Squires presented a draft ordinance during a joint meeting of the frac sand study committee, plan commission and county board. He shared with those in attendance some points he believed should be scrutinized, including but not limited to:
• Interim Use Permit versus Conditional Use Permit
• Commercial mining versus industrial mining regulations
• Regulation related to proximity to water and the water table
• Density restrictions
• Hours of operation
• Road agreements
When the frac sand study committee resumed meeting on April 12 to address those issues lengthy debate took place over who should chair the meetings, whether or not votes should be taken when the committee’s purpose is for research and whether the committee should be drafting ordinances.
Thirteen pages of minutes were a product of the meeting as was concern from the county board on moving forward.
At the core of debate is landowner rights and environmental safety. Quite often the study committee was split 6 to 3, with 6 leaning toward less restriction.
In between a lot of back and forth Ron Meiners, who serves in an advising capacity from the Root River Soil and Water Conservation District, said, “I can’t help but think how heavily this weighs on the county commissioners. Whether someone is pro or con, people will twist information to their advantage. We’ve heard this industry will pit neighbor against neighbor and we’re seeing that here.
“I don’t want to see either one off balance. This is my home, too, and I believe we can move forward with common sense. Everybody has legitimate concerns. We have no understanding of how this will be pasted together in the end. We’ll need to go in and see how it goes – things might need to change after we get started.”
After three hours of hashing out ideas on some of the aforementioned points the committee adjourned for good.
From here the draft ordinance will go to the county plan commission, be opened for public comment and reviewed (possibly approved) by the county board.
Committee member Kelley Stanage implored those present to consider the health and economic impacts of mining before making any decision. She said those two key topics hadn’t been touched.
Conversely, committee member Eric Johnson asked the board to communicate with frac sand industry leaders to get that viewpoint and knowledge.
After adjournment a half dozen people in attendance asked when the public would be heard.
Committee chair Glenn Kruse said he had been allowing input all along.
Zmyewski said that just because the study committee was disbanded, “it doesn’t mean there’s an end to studying or suggestion.”
But resident Donna Buckbee said she’s never felt the committee was properly arranged with all interests represented. “The study committee ended not because its done with the work, but because it won’t do its work,” she said.