At its April 4 meeting, the Houston County Board of Commissioners scheduled a site visit of the Erickson Sand Mine on Tuesday, April 18, at 4 p.m., pending permission from the mine’s operators.

This will be considered a special meeting of the board as a whole, therefore, it will be open to the public.

However, it was the county zoning administrator’s recommendation to prohibit public comments when meeting at the mine in Yucatan Township.

“The purpose of this meeting is to gather information,” stated Aaron Lacher.

He said the county attorney would work with the operators’ attorney to finalize the logistics of the visit.

Citing safety concerns, Lacher explained there would also need to be coordination with the Sheriff’s Department.

Public can weigh in April 25

The commissioners planned the April 18 site visit, one week prior to its meeting, to act upon a District Court order in the ongoing land dispute over the Erickson Sand Mine outside of Rushford but located in Houston County.

A public hearing will take place at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, April 25, in the Commissioners’ Room in the Historic Houston County Courthouse in Caledonia.

As decided at their March 28 meeting, the commissioners will move forward with the remand process as opposed to further appealing the ongoing case.

In mid-February, Judge Carmaine Sturino ruled that the access road used by the mine violated the county’s ordinance dealing with property setbacks.

That decision stemmed from the high-profile dispute between Houston County and a group of adjoining landowners to the Erickson Sand Mine.

The landowners appealed the February 2016 decision by the Houston County Board of Adjustment, which affirmed the actions of former county zoning administrator Bob Scanlan, to issue a conditional use permit (CUP) to the mine operators in 2014.

Based on Judge Sturino’s recent finding, the zoning ordinance violation would also be a violation of the 2014-issued CUP.

She remanded the case back to the County Board for additional action.

When asked what that action could include, county attorney Samuel Jandt said he wasn’t able to comment on matters of pending litigation.

Hwy. Dept. Building discussion

“I don’t think we’ve gotten from the Cadillac to the Chevy yet,” commissioner Scott Connor stated as the board continued discussion on a new Highway Department building.

“I really feel, we need to send it back to the (county) engineer one more time,” he explained. “Let’s get it as realistic as we can.”

Chairman Jack Miller said he and the county engineer were scheduled to meet with Dennis Gavin, president and CEO of Caledonia Haulers, on April 6.

As a potential cost-saving option, Miller has previously expressed interest in possible outsourcing of some of the county’s maintenance services to Caledonia Haulers.

“It may not work,” he said, “but I think we have to explore it.”

Miller encouraged the other commissioners to set up individual times to meet with Gavin and tour his facility.

“I’m in a unique position because I just built a shop,” said commissioner Justin Zmyewski.

He invited the board members to stop by his rural Houston residence prior to the scheduled Erickson Sand Mine site visit on April 18.

Zmyewski added he could “help put it (costs) in perspective” as it relates to what certain dollar amounts can build.

As it was a discussion item on the agenda, no further action was taken on the proposed building project.

However, Miller said the board needs to set a timetable in the near future.

Feedlot program review

Lacher reported the county satisfactorily met minimum feedlot program requirements with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).

According to Lacher, in 2016 there were 414 registered feedlots in Houston County.

“We inspected just under nine percent of them,” he said about the county’s 2016 compliance inspections.

He explained the state requires counties to annually inspect at least seven percent of its registered feedlots

In a letter from the MPCA, dated March 23, it was noted non-compliance was identified in four inspections.

Lacher added the county has a biannual work plan that it uses to help prioritize the feedlot inspections, which he stressed are different from complaint-related inspections.

He mentioned the county receives grant dollars for meeting feedlot program requirements. Last year, he said the figure was in the $6,000 to $7,000 range.

For additional information from last week’s County Board meeting, look elsewhere in this week’s Herald.