By Daniel E. McGonigle
The Caledonia Argus
On a 3-2 vote the Houston County board voted to approve a Conditional Use Permit for the Erickson mine.
In April, the Planning Commission had discussions to consider the renewal of the Yucatan Township property’s CUP.
“There have been several twists and turns with this permit application,” said Rick Frank Houston County Environmental Services Director.
Frank and his staff were tasked with reviewing the request and to look at complaints levied against renewing the CUP.
“Amendments on the permit were to include 10,000 yard limit per year, screening be placed towards the Baker and Iverson properties and a 50 feet set-back to the Iverson property,” said Frank. “There were some concerns on erosion. We traveled the site and took a look at the erosion controls that are in place and didn’t find any signs of erosion. They do have storm water controls and erosion controls in place.”
Number of legal challenges
The case has taken turn after turn as residents from Houston county tried to stop or delay the CUP from being granted.
Jay Squires, a Land Rights Attorney who has represented Houston county, was on had during the June 24 meeting.
His advice: “You have to come to a decision today.”
Squires then wanted the board to direct the staff to prepare findings that are factually consistent so they can be integrated into a single document.
At a hearing in St. Paul on June 18th, the Environmental Quality Board found that Houston County was the Responsible Governmental Unit.
“So that is no longer an impediment,” said Squires prior to the county holding the vote.
A moratorium on allowing mining operations does not apply to the Erickson mine noted Squires, since a CUP has been in place with the mine since 1992.
At a Writ of Mandamus hearing which was held in Winona on June 23, Judge Birnbaum dismissed the case entirely.
At a hearing later that day, in Wabasha, MN, Judge Walter was asked to terminate the CUP due to an ending of the relationship between the Erickson Mine and Minnesota Sands.
Judge Walter took it under advisement but did not act upon the matter.
The EQB decision and the two court decisions led Squires to inform the commissioners that a vote on June 24 was in the best interest of all parties involved.
“My opinion is we have an obligation,” said Squires.
Some questions around the timetable for the vote were asked from the commissioners.
Commissioner Justin Zmyewski asked if because the CUP expired in 2013, would this new request be considered a new mine and not grand fathered in since it has been operational for more than two decades.
“The CUP was applied for in November of 2012,” said Squires. “My judgement is that state laws are intended to work that if it is filed in a timely manner then state law acts upon the request. I don’t think the intent of the law is that on January 1, 2013 you lost out the law is intended to be held in advance until legal matters can be resolved.”
Zmyewski and commissioner Dana Kjome voted no to granting the CUP.
Commissioners Judy Storle, Steve Schuldt and Teresa Walter voted to approve.