Frac sand mining ordinance vote delayed in Houston County

County commissioners expected to take up vote next Tuesday

In about a week, the three-year debate over mining in Houston County could be settled.  

County commissioners are expected to vote on whether to restrict or ban frac sand mining, and Tuesday they met one last time before making that decision.

Each county commissioner received a document from the county’s attorney Monday afternoon explaining in detail how their final vote could impact the county. Because banning frac sand mining is an option that has never been done before, the commissioners had more questions that needed to be answered.

The Houston County commissioners voted last week to move toward a ban on frac sand mining by preliminarily approving a proposed ordinance.

“The language that was voted on unanimously last week, it was in the definition of what is industrial mining,” said Justin Zmyewski, Houston County commissioner.

“Anything not used for agricultural and construction would be considered industrial, and that would put a ban on it basically,” said Teresa Walker, Houston County commissioner.

This week, the county commissioners are carefully looking at the entire proposed ordinance to make sure it mimics what they have discussed.

“Some cleanup and I think there could be some more that we may do,” said Steve Schuldt, Houston County commissioner.

Because Houston County would be the first to ban frac sand mining in Minnesota, there are some uncertainties that would come along with it.

“The discussion today was somewhat towards regulation. What’s better? Should we regulate or should we try to prohibit?” said Schuldt.

For more guidance, the commissioners looked to their attorney because some are concerned about what could happen in court.

“He brought up that MCIT, which is the insurance corporation for the state, would probably not defend us if we lost in a lawsuit and it would be hard to defend,” said Walter.

“It can be unenforceable because it is a taking, a land-taking and there were a few people speaking up about that,” said Schuldt.

“On the flip side of that is what about the people’s health. There are plenty of people out there prepared to sue the county if you are not willing to protect and promote their public health,” said Zmyewski.

The discussion has some thinking the commissioners are second-guessing last week’s decision.

“If they go back on their word, one has to question whether democracy exists, and whether the officials are representing the people or what they individually want to do,” said Zmyewski.

But commissioners said the additional concerns were enough to push the vote back at least another week.

“Nobody is predetermining what the vote is going to be,” said Schuldt.

For the Houston County commissioners time is of the essence. The county’s moratorium is set to expire the beginning of March. If the commissioners do not come to an agreement, whether to ban frac sand mining or regulate and restrict it, then the original ordinance would go into effect and that ordinance doesn’t address frac sand mining at all.

Four out of five of the Houston County commissioners have to approve the proposed ordinance for it to take effect.