Houston County commissioner questions government transparency

Commissioner says meetings have been "held behind closed doors"

With a deadline looming to make a decision about frac sand mining in Houston county tensions are running high on both sides of the debate but one county commissioner said it may not be a fair fight.

A moratorium that prevents the creation of new sand mines in Houston County is set to expire at the beginning of March, which gives the county commissioners a tight deadline to create an ordinance to regulate sand mines.

One county commissioner said some progress has been made but he doesn’t feel like it’s been a group effort.

“I hope one of these new mines opens up next to you,” said Bryan Van Gorp, a Houston County resident.

Van Gorp has been a resident of Houston County for almost three decades and has been voicing his concerns about frac sand mining from the beginning. But no matter how many times he stands up and gives his opinion, he doesn’t feel like he’s part of the discussion

“We are not privy to the background of all the decisions that are made and often times. When we bring forth scientific evidence or other information, they are ignored,” said Van Gorp.

And one county commissioner said this may not be the first time the public feels this way.

“We have had issues here in Houston County where people do not feel that the county has been transparent in numerous situations,” said Justin Zmyewski, a Houston County commissioner.

The latest issue comes as the county tries to set up regulations for frac sand mining. The county created a nine member study committee made up of county specialists.

These include, “The Highway Department, public health, soil and water, two commissioners, the head of planning and zoning, zoning administrator and then two planning commission members,” said Zmyewski.

Their goal was to look at all the issues and write a proposal that would be introduced at a public hearing but things didn’t go as planned.

“On numerous occasions I have witnessed a few meetings that took place in the zoning office. It was door closed and four particular members that were present.”

Zmyewski said closed-door meetings didn’t involve any commissioners or representatives from the highway, public health or soil and water departments.

“So I question when you have a committee made up of experts in these particular fields, why were the experts not there?” said Zmyewski.

Zmyewski said if there were any concerns a committee meeting should have been scheduled.

“They might have just been having a discussion and not making any changes, but the whole point is that is not what it was supposed to be,” said Zmyewski. “Even if it is not breaking the law, it is a big deal in the eye of the people.”

“This has been a very long-term thing in Houston County governance and it is going to be hard to change,” said Van Gorp.

There are five Houston County commissioners. News 8 did try to contact each of them by phone but have not heard back for comment.

The next public hearing about frac sand mining in Houston County is set for Feb. 18 at 10 a.m.