By Emily Bialkowski
Five individuals came forward to speak during the public comment portion of the Nov. 26 Houston County Board Meeting, and although each message had different focus, they all seemed to lead back to land use issues.
First, David Williams, a land use consultant from Fillmore County, implored the County Board to instruct all county employees to not issue any permits for mining on, specifically, the Tracy Erickson property.
Erickson sued the county for not allowing him to extract frac sand from his land under an existing conditional use permit. The case has since been dismissed, but concern remains on the possibility of the original CUP getting renewed.
Williams said, because the Erickson property is included among 11 mine sites in three counties currently undergoing state review, the county cannot proceed with any kind of permitting or permit renewal.
“Houston County can’t issue any permits until the Environmental Impact Statement is completed or (Erickson) can get waiver from Environmental Quality Board,” Williams said. “It also includes ag and construction uses of that sand.
“My purpose is to let you know that I think it’s important to inform your county staff so they don’t inadvertently issue any kind of permit to Mr. Erickson,” Williams said.
Brian Van Gorp, a Houston County resident, shared similar sentiments. He said, “I just want to talk about the absurdity of renewing the Erickson CUP.”
Among a list of nine reasons, Van Gorp said, “Houston County is not the responsible government unit for any of the five mines (in Houston County) currently undergoing an Environmental Quality Board-mandated Environmental Impact Statement and therefore cannot act on any of these permits in any way. Even if that were resolved, the county has imposed an Environmental Assessment Worksheet on the Erickson mine that has not been done. No action can be taken until these issues are resolved.”
Houston County resident Kelley Stanage also commented.
“A final decision may not be made until the environmental review is complete or the EQB decides otherwise. It’s fairly important that you inform the staff about these Minnesota administrative rules,” she said.
Zoning Director Bob Scanlan said, in a separate telephone interview, Erickson has not applied for any additional permits. His original request to renew the CUP dates back to Nov. 1, 2012, but will not be acted on due to the frac sand moratorium, the state’s intervention and the request for an Environmental Assessment Worksheet from the County Board.
At the meeting, Bruce Kuehmichel did not address the Erickson issue, but instead commented on the Bonanza Grain/Kruckow Rock Product mine, which, he said, should have a performance bond imposed on it.
“Section 26.09, page 126 of the zoning ordinance, authorizes you the right to impose a performance bond upon the mine operator to assure the citizens of Houston County that a completed reclamation of the mine wound upon the land will be accomplished,” he said.
Bonanza Grain/Kruckow Rock Product was granted a permit to expand its mine footprint in late November.
Finally, Bets Reedy, also a county resident, asked the board to consider climate change when making decisions.
Reedy said she attended an EQB meeting in November focused on climate change and was impressed by how all the agencies present agreed to work together to provide expertise to local units of government.
“Your job is to protect the health and well being of county residents, and all of us need to begin to do something. I cannot imagine saying to a future generation, ‘We knew you were going to be living in horrible circumstances,’” Reedy said.
No action was taken on any of the public comments. The board did, however, go into closed session to speak with their land use attorney on the status of the Erickson case.
“Even though the lawsuit was dismissed, there have been recent developments,” Commissioner Justin Zmyewski said upon returning into open session. “All we know is (Erickson) reached out for an opinion,” he added.