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 conditional use permit.
“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 permit.
“Amendments on the permit were to include a 10,000-yard limit per year, screening be placed toward the Baker and Iverson properties and a 50-feet set-back to the Iverson property,” Frank said. “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 permit from being granted.
Jay Squires, a land rights attorney who has represented Houston County, attended 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 18, the Environmental Quality Board found that Houston County was the official responsible governmental unit.
“So that is no longer an impediment,” said Squires prior to the County Board holding the vote.
A moratorium on allowing mining operations does not apply to the Erickson mine, noted Squires, since a permit 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, Minnesota, Judge Walter was asked to terminate the permit due to an ending of the relationship between the Erickson Mine and Minnesota Sands.
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,” Squires said.
The commissioners asked some questions about the timetable for the vote.
Commissioner Justin Zmyewski asked, because the conditional use permit expired in 2013, if this new request would be considered a new mine and not grandfathered in, since it has been operational for more than two decades.
“The CUP was applied for in November of 2012,” Squires said. “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 Jan. 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 permit.
Commissioners Judy Storlie, Steve Schuldt and Teresa Walter voted to approve.