By Emily Bialkowski
More than 50 people attended the Houston County Board meeting July 2 to participate in discussion on the Kruckow Rock Product/Bonanza Grain sand quarry conditional use permit application.
The Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval of the application with conditions, but some say the county’s way of handling permit violations is laughable. Bonanza Grain applied for the permit after residents complained blasting had damaged their houses. While investigating the complaint, the county’s Planning and Zoning Department found the business had exceeded the parameters of its original conditional use permit.
The issue ultimately comes down to a business trying to regain compliance with a new permit and residents who think violations should have consequences.
“It’s not surprising that Bonanza Grain violated its conditional use permit. Over the years, the county attorney, Planning and Zoning Commission and Houston County Environmental Services has had a selective and dismissive attitude toward the Houston County zoning ordinance,” Mike Fields of Winnebago Township said, after which part of the audience applauded.
“If you can’t enforce the ordinances now, how will you manage to do so if frac sand mining is allowed? If we can’t count on you, who can we turn to?” Drew Fergison of Money Creek Township questioned.
“I’d hate to see you not go ahead with the recommendation of the Planning and Zoning Commission. It will give farmers and construction people time to get through the summer,” Alan Meyer, a construction company owner, said, to which some of the audience also applauded, but notably from the other side of the room.
Meyer further stated that sand products are critical to Houston County’s economy and have both agricultural and construction applications.
Kelley Stanage of Houston said, “You as commissioners must be thinking ‘How did we get here?’ You folks need to get a handle on how we’ve been operating and evaluate how we should operate.”
Zoning Administrator Bob Scanlan admitted that mining has been a “hot button” topic for the county, but he urged the board to consider every citizen’s right to due process. He said he must provide every applicant the right to a review by the Planning and Zoning Commission. When the applications hit his desk, they all get the same treatment – even if a violation has occurred.
“It’s not a good road to go down if you start denying people the right to due process. I can’t just say ‘No, I won’t take your application,’” Scanlan said.
Commissioner Justin Zmyewski likened the situation to public law, saying police can be called out if a stereo is too loud. “What happens with these (quarries) when someone says they are a nuisance?” he asked.
Scanlan said public law is referred to a judge and jury, but land issues are up to the Planning and Zoning Commission and county board.
“As a way to mitigate problems, they attach conditions to it as they have today,” Scanlan said, adding, “When they (Bonanza) realized they were outside of their boundary they moved back in and filed for a new application.”
Zmyewski pressed further: “So right now it’s more of a matter of ‘We screwed up; we just get a permit to say it’s OK?’”
Again Scanlan said Bonanza filed a permit application, so he had to go through all the proper channels.
The extent to which Bonanza’s original permit was violated remains unclear. Scanlan said aerial photos showed the discrepancy but not to an exact footage – that would require a survey.
Permit approved 3-2
Muddy water remains fluid, and the county board had an obligation to act on the commission’s recommendation by either supporting it, denying it or tabling it.
They accepted the recommendation 3-2 (Dana Kjome and Justin Zmyewski voting against) with a total of six stipulations:
• All state and federal permits must be obtained and adhered to.
• The issue will come back to the Planning and Zoning Commission in six months for review.
• Six seismographs must be in place to record a blast.
• All residences within a half mile of the blast must be notified and the company must notify the county board so members may witness the blast if they wish.
• The company must replicate the April 4, 2013, blast – the blast that allegedly created the issue – as closely as possible.
• A survey of the property must be obtained.
In conclusion, Commissioner Dana Kjome said he really struggled with the issue and didn’t like the compromise.
“Rules are rules, and I want to be fair to everybody,” he said, adding that he’d like to see a committee formed to evaluate the constructs of the Planning and Zoning Commission, especially since so many of the members have served on the commission for decades. No official action was taken on that suggestion.