Mine expansion gets go ahead

By Emily Bialkowski
Caledonia Argus

The Houston County Board had several zoning items to consider when they met Dec. 3, including one preliminary plat and four conditional use permit applications.
The requests were entertained by the Planning and Zoning Commission on Nov. 18 before heading to the County Board.
A request from Bonanza Grain/Kruckow Rock Product drew the most comment prior to its approval. The business, located in Caledonia Township, requested permission to expand its mine from 10 acres to 17.
Six months ago, the County Board granted the company a temporary extension of their existing conditional use permit while requiring additional seismographs be placed near homes that alledgedly experienced damage from a blast. The stipulation was followed, and additional blast readings did not exceed federal or state limitations, Zoning Director Bob Scanlan reported.
A certified survey was also completed at the mine site to avoid any confusion on setbacks or boundaries.
Despite this information, resident Bruce Kuehmichel reached out to the director of the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board seeking information on whether the mine has reached the threshold to trigger an Environmental Assessment Worksheet.
The statutes cited, however, deal with frac or silica sand mines.
“Zoning administration and the Planning  Commission are fully aware of this statute,” Planning Commission Member Dan Griffin said. “If you go to the website and look at the definition and terms as to how this statute applies – the state defines what they mean as silica sand. It does not include common rock, stone or aggregate. The production from this mine does not meet this definition. This statute does not apply to Bonanza Grain,” Griffin said.
The Planning Commission did recommend approval of the permit with three conditions, including:
• Abide by all federal, state and local regulations.
• Place four seismographs at prescribed locations during a blast.
• Give nearby residents 24 hours notice of an upcoming blast.
“I know Kruckows have a good business out there. We are patrons of their facilities. I know this issue has kind of got some emotions brought up into this deal, but the Kruckows are aware of the moratorium and silica sand mine,” Commissioner Justin Zmyewski said before the board unanimously granted the permit.

Preliminary plat
Larry Hanson, of Yucatan Township, brought forth a preliminary plat for a single-family dwelling on approximately 2 acres. Hanson has successfully rezoned the land from agricultural to residential, and the preliminary plat is the next step in finalizing the change.
The request received Planning and Zoning’s recommendation as well as County Board approval.

Other CUPs
Robin Schlegel, of Union Township, requested a conditional use permit for an ag-orientated business. Zoning Director Bob Scanlan said Schlegel hopes to process wine on her property, where there is already a small vineyard.
The Planning Commission recommended approval as long as all federal, state and local rules pertaining to that type of operation were followed, and the County Board followed suit.
Jim and Cindy Burg, of Winnebago Township, asked for a permit for land alterations and for a home occupation, the latter of which was tabled until the Dec. 16 Planning and Zoning meeting.
The couple hopes to run a lodging business in an old mill they restored on their property. Questions about how the request is affected by floodplain ordinances need to be researched before the Planning Commission will make a recommendation.
However, the Burg’s request to move some fill currently in a wetland area to create parking space was given a positive nod, and the board also approved.

Renewal request
The board considered one conditional use permit renewal request, as well. The permit comes up for review on a yearly basis and belongs to Travis Zenke, of Hoah Township. Zenke removes black dirt from a parcel of land in a shoreland district.
“He’s been doing this for years, and there doesn’t seem to be a problem,” Commission Steve Schuldt said. The board approved the renewal.

Study group
It has been a busy time for Planning and Zoning as they set out to update the zoning code. Scanlan gave an update on the study committee that is currently revamping outdated material within the document.
Some of the items under scrutiny include:
• Campground definition.
• One lot subdivisions. “The thought is we’d like to streamline that process,” Scanlan said. “Houston County is one of the few counties that doesn’t have this option. We basically have residential or ag. … It’d be nice to have something in between and put your residential developments near the cities.”
Commissioner Teresa Walter expressed favor on this idea. She said, “This has always been a concern for La Crescent Township.”
• Development agreements. The county does not currently have a standard development agreement.
• Misprints within the ordinance.
• Streamline Section 11 on issuing variances to better follow state regulations.
• Elicit discharge regulations as required by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. This only pertains to the city of La Crescent and La Crescent Township and deals with stormwater discharges in the public right of way. Scanlan said the committee is not sure the regulation belongs in the zoning code, and the group will discuss options in regard to where it might belong.
• Gender-neutral wording and typos.
The next meeting of the study committee is at 7 p.m. Dec. 23. Recommendations made by the committee will come to a public hearing before approval. Scanlan said there is a lot of ground to cover before then and predicts it will take until the spring to get through all the topics.

Other news
The County Board made quick work of a few other items, including:
• Approving the purchase of a platform scale at a cost of $4,445.
• Approving the purchase of a self leveling laser for checking grades at a cost of $1,109.
• Approving the purchase of Trimble Data Collector at a cost of $6,610. All three items were budgeted for and are used by the Highway Department.
• Approving Pathfinders CRM as the consultant for the historical structure report on the courthouse building.

November Zoning Permits
Tom and Jeff Gerard, Wilmington Township, build hay storage shed.
Craig Stanislawski, Yucatan Township, build pole shed.
Joseph Hartley, Caledonia Township, add on to existing pole shed.
Steve Rischette, Houston Township, build garage with lean-to.
Jay Johnson, Money Creek Township, build detached garage.
Dennis Holte, Black Hammer Township, build shed.
Richard Thesing, Brownsville Township, replace existing garage/shop.
James Stromberg, Money Creek Township, build a mini storage building.
Gary Otterness, Black Hammer Township, build garage.
Hidden Bluffs Inc./Midwest Outdoors Resorts, build shop.
Nathan Rask, Sheldon Township, build lean-to.
Phillip Nielsen, Mound Prairie Township, build storage shed.