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Mining ordinance sent to County Board

Fri, Nov 23rd, 2012
Posted in All Features

The long process, of initially revising the mining ordinance before ultimately building a separate ordinance to regulate industrial sand mining in Fillmore County, became one step closer to resolution at the November 15 Planning Commission meeting. Around 70 people attended the public hearing and filled the county board room to capacity and spilled over into the courtroom where people were connected by audio and video.

Everyone that wished to speak their peace filed up to the microphone one by one. A couple of people made the trip more than once. Some minor language changes to more clearly clarify requirements were made to the last draft of the ordinances before the public hearing began.

Most of the people present had been on this journey with the sand committee since February, even before the moratorium on mining was put into place to allow for study and revision of the ordinance. They have attended most every meeting and many started their comments with a word of thanks and appreciation that the committee has allowed them to express their concerns and has listened to their suggestions.

Of the twenty or so citizens that stepped forward to the microphone, all of them were in the camp that wanted industrial mining to be closely regulated to protect the environment and a way of life enjoyed by residents of Fillmore County. No one spoke asking to have less regulation than what was already detailed in the proposed ordinances.

Planning Committee chairman Gary Ruskell requested from the beginning for people to be courteous and polite and limit their comments to two to three minutes. Many of the public comments aired at the public hearing are listed below, but not all.


Ordinance 721 is basically the original ordinance that has historically regulated traditional sand and gravel production within the county. Zoning Administrator Chris Graves explained that during the process it was decided that a stand alone ordinance for industrial mining was needed. However, the 721 ordinance was strengthened in a few places.

Bill Swanson, speaking in regards to the total process, thanked those officials involved saying they “really have listened to the voices of Fillmore County” and that he was impressed. He added that the adopted language was pretty restrictive, but not perfect.

Rita Leduc, Pilot Mound township, noted there was nothing in 721 pertaining to water and water resources. She was concerned about the implications of mining directly in water. The ordinance lacked the requirement of a monitoring well if working close to the water table.

Commission member Brad Erickson said the DNR is notified when a CUP application comes in and they tell us where the water table is in that area. Commission member Duane Bakke noted that ordinances are never static, adding this one appears to be working well enough as is.

The commission unanimously voted to send Ordinance 721 on to the county board.


Graves explained that his office had received some written comments regarding 736; some were positive, some wanted changes, but none asked for a flat out ban of industrial mining.

Bob Johnson, Harmony, asked how the maximum acreage of 50 was established, was concerned about mining below ground level creating a depression, and suggested that the requirement to stay 10 foot above the water table was not sufficient. Bakke explained the number 50 was chosen because that is near the size of Big Springs which is about 46 acres. He added that he didn’t envision a hollowed out area. Donna Rasmussen, SWCD, said the sand buttes are isolated and in most cases there is not the capacity for water to be stored there.

Bill Sullivan, Pilot Mound, asked that “below grade” be added in under Prohibited Activity, suggesting that 10 foot of sand over the water table would not be an effective barrier. Steve Hartwig later agreed and recommended there be at least a 25-foot buffer over the water table. Bonnie Haugen, Canton, said she was a grazing dairy farmer and was concerned about water. She suggested that studies have not considered karst geology, insisting more than a 10-foot buffer over the water table is needed.

Vern Crowson, Pilot Mound, maintained that the prospect of the industrial mining “has changed our neighborhood already.” He noted none of the panel members resides in a potential industrial sand mining area. The ordinance as presented could allow seven active mines in Pilot Mound township. He asked the commission to consider imposing a limit of two active mines at a given time in a single township. This spawned some sporadic applause.

Tom Barnes, Pilot Mound, said he was a neighbor to the Boyum site. He had moved to this agricultural area eight years ago. Barnes was concerned his home could loose 25 percent of its value. He suggested they create a mechanism for property owners to make up the difference of lost property values due to industrial mining. Barnes noted that he was told that it was not the purview of the sand committee to deal with affected property values. He suggested operating hours be reduced, including no operations on Saturday. He asked if the access road would be included in the setback requirement from a dwelling. Bakke said that the location of the access road would probably be restricted through the CUP. County Attorney Brett Corson said a property agreement could be a valid concern.

Dale Forster, Lanesboro, said it is unknown how effective county government will be at managing large scale mines; therefore, he requested the total number of active mines in the county at one time be reduced from 8 to 5. Bob Johnson later added he supported fewer sites.

Robert Hatch, speaking for his wife and himself, asked the commission to consider the effect this sand production and its use could have on future generations. He compared the effect of hydro fracturing on the earth’s crust to that of termites to the foundation of a house. Hatch maintained, “Some of us hold values that transcend money.”

George Spangler, as chairman of the board of directors of the National Trout Center, spoke to his concern that ground or surface mining could change the thermal regime of trout streams affecting trout viability. He asked that there be no washing or processing of sand at the mining sites (736 does prohibit this). Spangler also asked that the CUP be reviewed by the regulatory agency providing the standard.

Beth Crowson said the Crowson family has lived in Pilot Mound township for about 100 years. Her main concern was the density of the mines which could center in the township. She asked that industrial mines be limited to two per township. Several people asked the commission to limit the concentration of the industrial mines including Vern Crowson, Pilot Mound, Pete Keith of Holt township, Bonita Underbakke, and Roy House, Pilot Mound. Paul Leduc, Pilot Mound township, implored the commission to add one sentence to the ordinance that puts a two-mine limit per township. He maintained it is best to err on the side of safety and for neighborly relations. Applause from many followed his remarks. Underbakke maintained it would be prudent to have air monitors required to maintain good air quality.

Rita Leduc suggested industrial mining be prohibited where there is 65 Crop Equivalency Rating (CER) or more to protect food producing land.

Jane Peck, Carrolton township, stated that her preference was an outright ban on this kind of mining, but asked that they be limited to four in the county. She referred to sand mining as a “boom and bust” industry.

Commission Discussion

on 736

The two most requested changes of the proposed draft ordinance being discussed included a stricter limit on the number of active mines in the county and a limit of two in any one township.

Commission member Jim Keune said he liked the idea of restricting active mines to two per township. He added that he was agreeable to a limit of four or five mines at one time in the county, saying it can always be raised at a later date to eight. Keune suggested they need to learn a little bit first. He also thought it might be prudent to limit operation to five days per week, citing tourism as the reason.

Chairman Gary Ruskell said they could leave it at eight with two per township, adding half of the townships will not be affected. Sand is a commodity and prices are based on demand.

Commission member Duane Bakke maintained that townships have their own zoning authority and they are free to make an ordinance more restrictive than the county. He said he understood the angst of the Pilot Mound residents, maintaining they can limit the number of mines. Bakke said he was alright with a limit of five active mines at one time in the county. He added individual permitting can take into account other concerns like operating hours.

Graves suggested if townships want to place stricter limits they should have comprehensive plans in place and a zoning map.

Keune moved that they accept the draft as presented with two changes including a limit of five active mines in the county and a limit of two per township. The motion died due to lack of a second.

Bakke moved to accept the draft as presented with one change, which would limit the total active industrial mines in the county to five (instead of eight). The motion was approved unanimously.

Both ordinances will be sent to the county board where they will be considered for possible action on November 27.

Other Business In Brief

•During a public hearing to make changes in Sections 402(3) and 404.01 there was no comment from the public. The commission approved the changes to be sent on to the county board for their consideration. Portable agricultural buildings on skids will not require a permit regardless of size. The words of “of one hundred sixty square feet or less and” are to be removed. Graves noted that many portable agricultural buildings are now larger than one hundred and sixty square feet. A permit is not to be required for concrete or asphalt poured for non-agricultural uses, excluding foundations and footings.

•Gary and Matt Hellickson, Section 19, Carimona Township, requested an expansion of their feedlot from 250 to 720 animal units. They are switching from 5000 nursery pigs to 2400 head of wean to finish pigs. Anne Kohila explained they will use two existing buildings. Arlynn Hovey, Carimona township officer, said there was no objection from the township. There was no public comment. The expansion was approved and sent on to the county board.

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