By Emily Bialkowski
The Houston County Board voted March 25 to create a second frac sand study committee.
The first frac sand study committee is drafting an ordinance to regulate any industrial-scale mining of sand. This second committee – a recommendation made by Commissioner Justin Zmyewski – will set out with the sole purpose of drafting language for a ban of frac sand mining altogether.
The suggestion was met with both support and resistance. Commissioner Teresa Walter said she felt she needed more information before creating another committee, such as who would be on it.
“I think we have enough going with the committee that we have,” Walter said.
But Commissioner Dana Kjome said he thought it would be good to conduct parallel work.
Zmyewski tried to satisfy concerns by saying the committee would not vote on a ban but just create language for one.
The recommendation passed 3-2 with Walter and Judy Storlie voting against.
Zmyewski introduced the idea after providing an update on how the first frac sand ordinance study committee meeting went on March 24. He said it was very productive, though a bit of concern was expressed over the possibility of committee members finding themselves at an impasse.
“We talked about having a facilitator conduct the meeting to make sure things go smoothly,” Zmyewski said.
He also said the committee wishes to acquire maps illustrating things like topography and geology; they wish to have an official note taker; and they wish to review example ordinances and scientific data.
The committee will meet again at 9 a.m. April 7.
In other news, several staffing items got the OK during the meeting.
The Human Services Department received approval to hire two full-time social workers, Lisa Arneson and Malika Eisberner. A third social worker vacancy remains, and Human Resources Director Tess Arrick-Kruger said a recommendation on that position will be forthcoming.
The Sheriff’s Office also got the OK to hire several individuals for river patrol and substitute patrol duties. They include: Robert Schuldt, Mike Ernster, Rod Humble, David Breault and Tyler Heiden, many of whom have worked for the department before. All of the men are licensed police officers.
The county receives upwards of $10,000 in federal and state grants to help offset the cost of patrolling the river. Additionally, Chief Deputy Scott Yeiter said, “It’s much cheaper to pay a 67-day employee then pull someone in on overtime.”
Finally, the board approved a nine-month contract with Community and Economic Development Associates for economic development services provided by their employee Rick Howden.
Economic development work shifted from an in-house employee to a contracted employee a year ago after the resignation of former Economic Development Coordinator Jordan Wilms.
Wilms’ annual salary was $52,000 a year without benefits.
Even with a 2 percent increase, the CEDA contract costs the county $25,474 annually in exchange for Howden’s expertise two days a week.
Howden’s work was lauded by Arrick-Kruger and Storlie, who said he is very proficient and efficient with his time. The contract has been purposefully limited to nine months with an expiration date of Dec. 31, 2014, so the county can get on a calendar year with the item come 2015.