The Houston County Board of Commissioners at its July 24 meeting amended wording in the frac sand moratorium it enacted on March 20 to fully halt all silica sand mining.

The moratorium was put in place to give Houston County time to study the effects of frac sand mining. However, the original moratorium only prevented companies from applying for new permits to operate frac mines and did not cover mines that already had been permitted. This became an issue a few months ago when an old mine owned by Tracie Erickson, which was first permitted in 1992, planned to restart operations for the purpose of mining frac sand. As the moratorium did not exclude old mines, the county commissioners could not prevent the mine from operating.

Environmental Services Director Rick Frank brought the amendment to the board. Frank said these existing permitted mines are circumventing the moratorium and this amendment would prevent further grandfathering in of previously permitted frac mines.

The revised moratorium states that new mines, old mines turned into silica sand mines and all existing silica sand processing were restricted until the expiration date of the moratorium in March 2013. This new amendment does not affect the expiration date of the moratorium.

The amendment, which was passed unanimously, will not prevent the Erickson property mine from operation, but will prevent other mines from reopening for the purposes of mining silica sand.

Donna Buckbee spoke to the board on behalf of residents in support of the frac sand moratorium. She said a petition, which was signed by 288 residents, asks for an environmental assessment worksheet on the sand mind on Minnesota Highway 16 near Rushford.

“I just wanted to point out those 288 signatures about the Erickson mine express a lot of concern by people about the damage and harm that would be done to the neighborhood and community,” Buckbee said.

Buckbee told commissioners that this petition has already been submitted to the environmental quality board.

Land-use lawsuit decided in county’s favor

Zoning Administrator Bob Scanlan told the board that on Friday, July 20, a lawsuit filed against the county zoning department went in favor of the county. The plaintiffs were unable to prove the county’s zoning ordinance was unconstitutional.

Scanlan said his department tries to be as consistent as possible with ruling on applications. He added that Houston County has a typical rural zoning ordinance.

“There is nothing there that stands out that is much different from anywhere else in the state,” he said.

While Chairman Jack Miller was pleased with the outcome, he said, “It’s never pleasing when county citizens feel it necessary to file a lawsuit. I don’t feel good about that. I hope similar conflicts that arise in the future can be resolved short of lawsuits.”

Survey equipment purchase approved

Houston County Surveyor Dick Walter informed the board that the Federal Communication Commission will required by the end of the year that Houston County go to a narrow band on GPS units. In order to comply with the change, the county will need to purchase a new radio receiver. The cost of the radio receiver will be $1,597.78, which will come out of the county’s compliance fund. The board approved the purchase.

In addition, a request was made to the county to help relocate an easement for a fire lane on the Winona County boarder. The easement was originally marked by a different survey department, but the markers have since been lost. Commissioners authorized the surveyor’s department to offer assistance with locating the easement.

Highway projects

Houston County Engineer Brian Pogodzinski told the board that the county received four bids on a bridge replacement project on County Highway 22. Of the four the four bids, the lowest came from Brennan Construction at $215,415.50. The estimate on the project was more than $300,000. The bid was approved by the board.

Commissioner Justin Zmyewski did ask why bids on county road projects have come in under estimate. Pogodzinski explained that the economy was the main factor. Companies do not want to lose employees and will accept projects to ensure employees have work.

In other news

•Public Health Director Deb Rock requested the approval of a contract for Winona State University student nurses to work as interns for Houston County. The contract is for three years. The interns work with public health during a 10-week program in the spring season.

The contract was approved by the board.

Rock also informed the board of a recent epidemic in Minnesota of pertussis, better known as whooping cough. Last year, there were 10 cases of Pertussis in Houston County. This year, nationwide, 13 deaths have been caused by illness.

Rock said Pertussis is most harmful for infants due to immunity issues. A vaccine is available through health services and has been administered along with the tetanus shots for the last year. Rock said anyone who cares for young children also should have the vaccination.

•Human Resource Director Tess Arrick-Kruger and Jail Administrator Mark Schiltz brought a recommendation to hire Matt Mackie and Jessica Siminski as part-time jailer/dispatchers, pending background checks. The board approved the two hires. Kruger said the other applicants will be interviewed in order to expand the county’s pool of 67-day employees.

•The canine lease agreement was approved by the board. The monthly lease rate for the canine is $150.

•A public hearing is scheduled for the Wildcat Campground ordinance update at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 21.

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