County opts for another year on mining moratorium

By Emily Bialkowski

Caledonia Argus


Houston County will have another year to evaluate frac sand mining regulations and options after approving a one-year extension on a moratorium Jan. 28. A public hearing was held prior to the decision, which pushes the moratorium out until March 2015.

Praise and thanks were extended to the County Board by the majority of those who braved the extremely cold weather to share their opinion during the public hearing.

Eight residents stepped up to speak, all in favor of extending the moratorium, with a little less than 20 in attendance.

Ken Tschumper, of La Crescent Township, said frac sand mining is incompatible with “everything else that goes on in this county” and thanked the board for the past two moratoriums.

Kelley Stanage, of Houston Township, commended the board for its time and efforts on this issue.

“This hasn’t been easy for anyone involved,” Stanage said. “I hope you continue to listen to community members. People will be behind your decision-making processes when they feel they are part of the process.”

Both Julia and Laverne Massman, of Caledonia Township, stepped up to speak in favor of the moratorium and in favor of a ban on frac sand mining altogether.

“This county is a beautiful county, and I see no reason why it should be torn up for a few people that would like to have this frac sand mining going on,” Laverne Massman said.

Julia Massman said she felt the real problem stems from our country’s dependence on fossil fuels.

“It’s not about frac sand; it’s about energy,” she said.

A World War II era couple, the Massmans both expressed concern for future generations.

“I think this here thing goes a lot farther than all of us; it’s our children and grandchildren,” he said.

“The future is yet to be found, but we have the benefit of education of the past. Don’t rush into this,” she added.

Others expressed concern over industrial-scale traffic, the county’s ability to enforce regulations and frac sand mining’s compatibility, or lack thereof, with the county’s economy.

Once everyone who wished to speak did so, the board unanimously extended the moratorium without comment. The vote was met by applause.


Letter on frac sand ban

In separate action, the County Board approved sending a letter to the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board asking for direction on implementing a frac sand mining ban.

Commissioner Justin Zmyewski said the EQB suggested such letters be sent if that was something counties wanted to consider. The EQB is spearheading efforts – and will make recommendations – to local government units about frac sand mining, since the issue is riddled with a need for comprehensive expert advice – advice that most counties  can’t afford to get.

Environmental Services Director Rick Frank asked if the county had sought legal advice on this, but members of the board said the letter does nothing more than ask the EQB for advice.

“It’s just giving us another option,” Commissioner Teresa Walter said.

“It’s allowing that (a ban) to be available for certain areas if a county wanted,” Zmyewski said.

For example, Zmyewski added, Lake City is interested in such language because they are located in an environmentally sensitive corridor.

“For certain areas, we need that to be an option if that’s the best route,” Zmyewski said.

Frank said he understood that protected areas like wetlands exist but added that problems could be addressed by setback regulations.

Despite Frank’s concerns, the board unanimously approved sending the letter, which, among other things, states, “It is essential that local governments be given the opportunity and power to enact a ban if that is found to be in the best interest of that governing body.”