By Emily Bialkowski
A May 23 planning and zoning committee meeting raised the eyebrows of some citizens, who are concerned that lackluster consequences for violating a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) is harmful to residents.
Kelley Stanage, during public comment portion of the May 28 Houston County Board meeting, said she was concerned that it took a residential complaint for the county to realize an existing mine had exceeded the parameters of its CUP.
The homeowner complained that her house has sustained damage due to blasting at the construction sand mine on Al Sheehan’s land, which is leased to Kruckow Rock Products. The blasting company is Bennett Explosives.
Zoning Administrator Bob Scanlan said the complaint has been investigated.
“As far as I can see it hasn’t violated anything. They (Bennett Explosives) supplied us with seismograph readings, and neither state nor federal codes were broken as far as exceeding limitations,” Scanlan said.
The investigation did reveal, however, that the mine’s original CUP – obtained in 2001 – has been breached.
“They have expanded their original described area,” Scanlan said, meaning the footprint of the mine has exceeded the permitted space.
A public hearing was held on May 23 to consider a new CUP for the landowner and mine operator, but the planning and zoning committee tabled the matter to seek further information.
A tour of the mine has been set for June 18, and the committee will continue discussion on the matter at their June 20 meeting.
“It seems to me staffing in the county is insufficient to monitor current construction mines. Before we even begin to allow frac sand mining in Houston County we should take a look at how to increase staff so that it doesn’t have to come down to a resident having damage and complaining before it is realized that a mining operator has violated their permit,” Stanage said.
The county board took no action on the matter as it is still being digested by the planning and zoning committee.
In other business Scanlan brought forth a request from Northern Natural Gas to expand the footprint of their substation in Money Creek Township. The gas company would like to install equipment that will test the integrity of the natural gas line and check for any leaks or cracks.
Scanlan said Money Creek Township Board representatives, “were fine with it, too,” and the board unanimously approved the request.
County Engineer Brian Pogodzinski brought forth three bids for the county’s crack filling needs. The county typically spends $80,000 to $90,000 each year on filling roadway cracks, which helps keep water out of the aggregate and makes roads last longer.
The low bid was from Fahrner Asphalt at $1.91 per pound, and the board approved the bid accordingly. The other two bidders came in at $1.93 per pound.
Justice Center boiler need
Human Resources Director Tess Arrick-Kruger asked to purchase two boiler mufflers for the Justice Center at a cost of $2,700. She said the mufflers were something that was recommended at time of construction – when she wasn’t yet an employee – and can’t speak as to why they were not installed then.
The mufflers dampen what is a “very loud and obnoxious noise.” Arrick-Kruger said she has funds in the budget for the item, but Commissioner Dana Storlie said he felt the architect should be responsible for the expense and suggested the board try that route first.
Arrick-Kruger said she will make a “good faith effort” in that regard but doesn’t believe anything will come of it.
Arrick-Kruger also gave a presentation on handling employee complaints. “It’s important because personnel policy can be quite complex and very confusing at times,” she said.
The goal of the county should be to get “consistent results and practices across the county between departments and between commissioners from year to year to minimize liability exposure,” she said.
The county can investigate alleged infractions of county policies by employees, not criminal complaints, she said.
In a non-related personnel matter, the board accepted the resignation/retirement of Fred Lee, automated systems manager/custodian, and opened a search to replace him.
The board voted to go into closed session to conference with their land use attorney Jay Squires, after which time they reopened the meeting and said they discussed ongoing litigation with Minnesota Sands. No action was taken.
Finally, the board entertained a presentation by Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust (MCIT) risk control manager Kevin Balfanz.
Houston County is a member of MCIT, who represents 81 of 87 counties in Minnesota for property, casualty and workers compensation needs.
The presentation was informative in nature about where Houston County fits into some of the yearly numbers and statistics.