If the frac sand industry and its allies on the Houston County board thought a vote to reject a ban on new industrial-scale silica mine mines would spell the end to grassroots organizing, they miscalculated.
County newspapers report continued conflict in the Southeastern Minnesota county in the state's Driftless Region.
Citizens have scheduled meetings in the aftermath of the board's decision, the paper reports in Two community forums planned on frac sand mining:
Two community forums on the ongoing controversy over frac sand mining are planned for Houston County. “Voices from the Front Lines; The Continuing Effort against Frac Sand Mining in Houston County” will feature presentations that explain how and why frac sand mining should be prohibited in Houston County.
Experts will explain the legal justification for a ban and how frac sand mining is connected to the larger issue of hydraulic fracking for oil and gas. Each program will feature beautiful aerial photos of our region and of the destruction that frac sand mining may cause. Both programs will be followed with audience discussion. Refreshments will be served.
The first forum will be held on Saturday, March 28 in Spring Grove from 1 to 3:30 p.m. at the Spring Grove Fest Building.
The second forum is planned for Tuesday, March 31, in Caledonia at the City Auditorium from 7 to 9 p.m.
These forums are sponsored by Houston County Protectors and the Houston County Government Accountability Project. More information on these events and the ongoing controversy over frac sand mining is available at www.houstoncountyrealitycheck.com
The county commissioners have responded to citizen discontent by thinking about listening even less to county residents' concerns. Caledonia Argus staff writer Zachary Olson reports in Board flirts with removal of public comment period:
Tensions remain high over frac sand mining in Houston County. After strong disapproval from citizens, the County Board meeting on Mar. 24 discussed the possibility of eliminating the public comment period.
The citizen’s animosity stemmed from a Mar. 17th 3-2 vote against Commissioner Justin Zmyewski’s proposition to add language that would have banned sand frac mining in the existing ordinance. But the board now feels they are under personal attack, and that hostility has crossed the line.
“Our public comment period has gone from suggestions and concerns, to lobbying, to intimidations, harassment, incivility, and the creation of a hostile work environment for our employees,” Board Chairman Steve Schuldt said.
Mike Fields, an outspoken critic of the Boards’ recent decisions, commented on the accusations.
“Personal attack is the last refuge of a scoundrel. We’re allowed to criticize how our employees are doing their jobs,” Fields said, “If we’re talking about how they’re doing their job, that is not a personal attack. That’s a professional attack.”
The citizens of Houston County feel they aren’t being heard from or taken seriously by their County Board. “There is no interaction, no exchange of ideas,” a citizen said in front of the board, “we feel like we’re talking to a wall most of the time.” . . .
Elsewhere in the paper, editor Daniel McGonigle reports in Data practices request presented to the county attorney:
In an effort to obtain a list of the 47 mines that are currently being utilized in the county, Houston, Minnesota resident Kelley Stanage submitted a request for information to the county’s designated data practices compliance official, county attorney Sam Jandt.
“I have been requesting the information of environmental services director, Rick Frank, since January 21, 2015,” Stanage told the county board. “Specifically, I am requesting the list of the 47 mines that are currently being utilized in the county.’”
Stanage said that Mr. Frank referred to this number during an email exchange that the two had on January 21. She also cites comments planning commission chairman Dan Griffin made regarding the same number of operative mines in the county during the March 3, 2015 county board meeting.
“Mr. Frank has sent me several things, none of which identified the 47 active mines,” Stanage said. “Because both Mr. Frank and Mr. Griffin have referred to the fact that there are 47 active mines in the county, one can only assume they have identified which 47 mines are active, so this information must be readily available.”
Read the rest in the Argus, and check out the opinion page. The passion in the letters could probably strip paint.
Houston County News
In LaCrescent's Houston County News, Chris Hubbuch reports in With moratorium expired, county faces questions about enforcement:
With the expiration this month of a three-year moratorium on silica sand mining and no new laws in place to regulate it, Houston County officials are struggling to get a handle on existing mines and quarries – and facing questions over whether it has the resources to enforce the rules and process a potential onslaught of new permit applications.
Of the 130 known mines and quarries in the county, only 12 have conditional-use permits. County officials can’t say exactly how many are operational. A third of the permitted mines do not have reclamation plans on file, as required by the county ordinance. Not one has a bond to guarantee the land is restored if the mines go out of business.
Environmental Services director Rick Frank said his office is working to get a handle on those mines and eventually bring them into compliance, but he says the staff doesn’t have the resources to keep up with a growing list of responsibilities. He estimates efforts to contact mine owners and update the books could take a year – or more.
Some residents and county commissioners complain those officials are either unable or unwilling to enforce the existing ordinances on those unpermitted mines even as the county faces a potential surge in new – and larger scale – mining.
“These people don’t either know what’s going on or care what’s going on,” Mike Fields said. “You want to dramatically increase the intensity and level of mining when you don’t even know the current level of intensity?” . . .
Check it out at the News, which also reports that an Iowa county offers ordinance assistance to Houston because of concerns about how industrial scale mining will affect their own quality of life:
“I’m here representing Allamakee County government,” Jack Knight told the Houston County Board of Commissioners last week. “Our county officials are still concerned about potential traffic and trans-loading through Allamakee County as the result of active (frac sand) mining in Houston County.”
Knight serves as an Allamakee County Soil and Water Commissioner and is a member of the Northeast Iowa Resource Conservation and Development Board. Houston County commissioners heard him during the public comment portion of their March 17 meeting, but did not reply to his offer of help from across the state line.
“Our zoning administrator would be willing to take a meeting with either your board or (planning commission chairman) Dan Griffin about writing a protective ordinance,” Knight continued. “I’m not here touting exactly what we’ve done in Allamakee County ... but we’re more than willing to work with you on writing a more complete, comprehensive ordinance than the ones you’ve had proposed here.
“I would also be willing to go to our other county officials and staff – for instance our county engineer – and arrange meetings with similar positions here if and when you decide to go with a more comprehensive ordinance. I’m just here to offer our cooperation.”
Houston County appears to need all the help it can get, the article notes:
With the board unable to agree on the terms of a recent draft ordinance which would have updated local mining laws, Houston County has reverted to the mining ordinance which was in place prior to a three-year moratorium on new sand extraction permits.
Later, commissioners could not even agree to their consent agenda, since one member (Teresa Walter) did not attend. The remaining four commissioners split on approving the documents, which included resolutions from three townships urging them to accept the draft ordinance as proposed by the Houston County Planning Commission.
Other local units of government (including the Spring Grove City Council and Money Creek Township) have asked the county to prohibit frac sand mining. . . .
The headlines of letter in the paper tell their own tales: Wrongdoing in Houston County followed by We're responsible for good stewardship of land, then The three lies in the county and The three lies in the county.
Spring Grove Herald
Finally, the Spring Grove Herald's Letters section includes some of the same epistles, joined by even more letters from area residents. Check it out.
Cartoon: A peasant's revolt in The Simpson's Springfield.
If you appreciate Bluestem Prairie, you can mail contributions (payable to Sally Jo Sorensen P.O. Box 108, Maynard MN 56260) or use the paypal button below:
Email subscribers can contribute via this link to paypal; use email sally.jo.sorensen at gmail.com as recipient.