By Emily Bialkowski
Renewal of a conditional use permit for Tracie and Michelle Erickson, of Yucatan Township – handed in to the Houston County Planning and Zoning Office in November 2012 – has resurfaced and now demands attention from the county. The permit was held up for months due to ties the Ericksons had with Minnesota Sands, an industrial frac sand mining company.
The Ericksons were included in litigation against the county, in which the plaintiffs argued they should be able to remove frac sand from the site under the property’s existing use permit. On Oct. 22, 2013, Judge Terrence Walters dismissed the case with prejudice.
Since then, the Ericksons have tried to dissolve ties with Minnesota Sands, going so far as to write the judge explaining that they have terminated their lease with the company.
They now wish to renew the permit to remove construction sand, as had been done since the permit’s original issue date of 1992.
Environmental Services Director Rick Frank addressed the County Board March 11 and said the matter is sensitive, requires legal counsel and must be addressed within 60 days, as state law demands.
“We have a number of bridges to cross; we need to get everything in line and make sure we base all decisions on facts,” Frank said in a follow-up telephone interview. “I don’t want to do something that will violate a judge’s order, and the EQB still has it (the property) on the radar screen for an environmental impact statement.”
The state Environmental Quality Board does list the Erickson property as part of an 11 mine group needing an impact statement. It’s unclear how the Ericksons’ decision to disconnect from Minnesota Sands influences the impact statement. That is just one of the matters Frank hopes legal counsel will clarify.
The conditional use permit renewal will come before the Planning Commission first, though a specific date has yet to be set for that.
The board appreciated Frank’s update and agreed that it would behoove the county to have legal counsel present when formally addressing the renewal.
Discussion about frac sand matters didn’t stop with the Ericksons’ permit renewal request. During the public comment period of the meeting, six individuals stepped up to offer their thoughts on the frac sand ordinance study committee whose members were named March 4.
“Once again the citizens of Houston County are left dazed and confused because the County Board has failed to be clear in its intent and transparent in process. We want some questions answered. Will the sand mining ordinance committee meetings be open to the public?” Bryan Van Gorp, of Yucatan Township, questioned.
Bets Reedy, of Money Creek, questioned why the board was drafting a frac sand ordinance when the majority of residents have indicated favor for a ban.
Ken Tschumper, of La Crescent, said the public will support a decision prohibiting frac sand mining.
“Some of us think you are being influenced,” Tschumper said.
Terry Boettcher, of Mound Prairie, said he felt some of these meetings appear more like bullying sessions.
Marilyn Frauenkron Bayer, of Houston Township, questioned Planning Administrator Bob Scanlan’s inclusion on the new study committee, as minutes from the former study committee – dated Aug. 1, 2013 – say: “Bob Scanlan, zoning administrator, can no longer be part of meetings as someone filed an anonymous complaint against him for an existing shale pit that has been on his property since the 1950s. Under the guidance of the county’s attorney Jay Squires and the County Human Resources Department, it was suggested that Bob cannot take part in any discussions where he may have an influence on the outcome of the discussion/decision.”
The board did not act on any of the comments. The frac sand ordinance study committee will first meet from 9 a.m. until noon March 24. Members include, as of March 11:
• Teresa Walter, Houston County Board chair.
• Justin Zmyewski, Houston County District 2 Commissioner.
• 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.