Feathers ruffled by frac sand committee recommendation

By Emily Bialkowski

Caledonia Argus

 

Selection of members on a frac sand ordinance study committee ruffled feathers during the March 4 Houston County Board meeting.

The board is breathing new life into the issue after sitting idle for several months in hopes of assistance from the state. A looming end to the frac sand moratorium, however, has forced the board’s hand in generating an ordinance before March 2015.

A draft ordinance was presented in February 2013 and now a new study committee is being formed to fortify the document.

Teresa Walter recommended she sit on the committee, as county board chair, as well as:

• Ron Meiners from the Root River Soil and Water Conservation District.

• Mary Marchel, director of the Public Health Department.

• Brian Pogodzinski, county engineer.

• Rick Frank, director of Environmental Services.

• Bob Scanlan, director of Planning and Zoning.

• Dana Kjome, the county commissioner who sits on the Planning Commission.

• Two Planning Commission members yet to be determined.

After announcing her recommendation, Commissioner Justin Zmyewski informed the board that he intends to be at every study committee meeting, which will create a quorum and force the need to post the meetings with a public notice in the newspaper.

“I will be there, and I will be heard at the table. It’s my own district that the most
activity is in,” Zmyewski said.

Scanlan, who was in the audience, said he thought the County Board representative on the Planning Commission (Kjome) should be on the study committee, to which Zmyewski responded, “I know why you guys don’t want me on there.”

Walter tried to interject but was cut off by Zmyewski, who continued, “I guarantee you Bob (Scanlan) is putting something in your ear.”

Walter denied the idea that the zoning director was somehow manipulating her opinion.

Zmyewski said it doesn’t matter who sits on the study committee because he will attend and warned the board to post the meeting to avoid breaking open meeting laws.

County Auditor Char Meiners said: “I don’t know that you want to run it that way. Then we’re going to have to do minutes – it’s going to be an official meeting.”

Walter said she would rather keep it a study committee.

As the conversation grew elevated with emotion, Kjome said he would happily bow out and allow Zmyewski to take his place.

“If Justin wants to go on, I can remove my name,” Kjome said. “I appreciate Justin’s feelings toward this committee.”

Walter said she thought it made sense to have Kjome on the study committee based on his committee assignments but agreed to the change.

Zmyewski also recommended that Planning Commissioners Dan Griffin and Rich Schild be the representatives from the Planning Commission, to which Walter said she would call all the planning commissioners to see who was interested and available.

Walter said the study committee would start meeting within the month. A first meeting date has not yet been set.

The study committee’s work on redrafting the ordinance will face a public hearing before adoption.

 

In other news

The County Board’s agenda was otherwise quite lean.

A Statement of Compliance from the Public Health director was approved. The document is reviewed annually and signifies that, to the best of its ability, the county is operating its home care program at a professionally accepted level.

The board also approved a request from Semcac to reallocate funds received from the county  to the Senior Nutrition Program instead of the RSVP Program, which is being taken over by another entity.

Commissioner Steve Schuldt, who sits on the Semcac committee, said, “I certainly don’t have a problem with reallocating funding.”

The board agreed to lend support to a letter circulating from area townships to the Minnesota House and Senate that supports maintaining current truck size and weight limits and opposes legislation that would increase these standards.

The board also agreed to support the removal of ash trees on county roads in the city of La Crescent to fight the emerald ash borer, an insect that decimates ash tree populations if left untreated. Both removal and replacement costs are being covered by a grant.

Finally, the board decided to hold off on an agenda item titled “strategic planning.”