More public input toward silica sand mining was received at the regular Fillmore County Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, April 9, from concerned Fillmore County citizens. The comments centered on the county's upcoming decision on whether to require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Rein Quarry operated by Reilly Construction.

The board was also encouraged to follow the recommendation made by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in a March 22 letter to include the possible Rein mine EIS with the state-regulated EIS for the proposed Minnesota Sands, LLC, silica sand mines.

On behalf of the Lanesboro Area Chamber of Commerce (LACC), President Emily Spende shared a letter addressed to the county commissioners, which thanked the board for their "on-going research, discussion, and attention on the issue of mining silica sand in Fillmore County." Spende continued by stating that the LACC supported the MPCA recommendation on the same grounds that "the Rein Quarry project has the potential to affect the same geographic and environmentally-relevant area."

Lanesboro resident Dale Forster stated he thought many of the issues associated with the mining weren't fully understood through the preliminary Environmental Assessment Worksheet. Moving the EIS responsibilities to the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board, which is responsible for the Minnesota Sands mines, Forster said, "would alleviate many of the issues facing the commissioners. It would reduce the county's chance of facing lawsuits in the future and save expense and staff time." He also said the county could gain valuable information from a state-run EIS to be used for future decisions concerning conditional use permits.

Pilot Mound Township resident Roy House said he was concerned about the "magnanimity of forces behind the frac-sand mining." He said the county wouldn't know how much control groups like Minnesota Sands would take once they get their foot in the door. House also focused on the effects silica sand mining has on the karst landscape.

"Anything that removes surface protection will increase the amount of water that gets to the bedrock. That increases the carbonic acid that eats away the bedrock," he explained.

House asked the board to consider 20 years in the future when making their decision on April 23.

Forster also said practices such as mining need to be stated on the title deed for future transactions. He concluded by voicing his concern about the number of trucks and possible inexperienced truck drivers who would be increasing accident risk in the county.

Commissioner Duane Bakke said the findings and facts process has been going well and that the board will be ready on April 23 to make a final decision.

Sheriff's report

Sheriff Daryl Jensen updated the board on several jail matters. Jensen said they were asked by the state to increase their jail population by three to five inmates. Jensen said their population has decreased the past three years with an average of 13 inmates every year. The cost of increasing the population by three inmates would be around $55,000.

Commissioner Chuck Amunrud asked what kind of inmates they would be. Jensen said they couldn't be predatory offenders.

Commissioner Marc Prestby said the inmates typically spend six months here and then are moved to a halfway house.

With the possible increase in inmates, Jensen said the contract with the DNR for the Sentence to Service program would need to be expanded. Sentence to Service is a program which contracts work through the DNR for inmates who are on the Institution/Community Work Crew. "It's a very positive program," stated Jensen.

In looking at the future of the Fillmore County jail, Jensen said the county has four options to respond to several infrastructure problems with their HVAC, gates and other issues. They could do nothing and face scrutiny from the Minnesota Department of Corrections, remodel what is there, build a new jail, or possibly go without a jail.

Bakke said they should look at the cost of the options before making a decision on whether the county can handle a certain action. Jensen said he felt like the county wants a 365-day jail, but doesn't want to overdo anything in remodeling or building a new jail.

"We need to improve the things we are weak at," he said.

In a 2012 inspection, it was suggested that the jail hire a part-time jail nurse. Jensen said the county could contract someone from another county or locally.

Amunrud asked about liability issues with having a nurse. Jensen said perhaps that was why the county hadn't had one before.

Jensen also updated the board on the ARMER system (Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response). "We have spent close to $800,000 on this, but only around $25,000 to $30,000 from the tax levy. The rest came from grants and 911 funds."

Jensen said the dispatch switchover would take place in June after another upgrade to the state system. After that, both the ambulance and fire departments would be switching over. The ARMER system allows, as Jensen said, greater connection and communication between departments, especially when they are all being called to a certain location.

County engineer report

County engineer Ronald Gregg updated the board on the recent successful application of a federal grant. The grant would provide $2.2 million in funding for a 2017 project, which would include road widening and two bridge replacements on County Road 1 from the County Road 4 junction north to the county line with Olmsted County. Along with that northern five-mile stretch, the remaining five miles south to Spring Valley could also be improved, but wouldn't be paid for by the grant.

The federal government will be paying for 71 percent of the north five-mile project, with state aid money covering most of the rest. Gregg also said the county could also get bonding money for all five bridges along the road.

Olmsted County visitors

The Olmsted County Commissioners visited the board meeting and discussed issues relevant to both counties. The Destination Medical Center was discussed as well as the current frac sand issues. According to the Olmsted commissioners, their county is not dealing with any major issues relating to silica sand mining.

Amunrud thanked the Olmsted commissioners for their support of the proposed Veterans' Cemetery in Preston.

Other business

In other business, the county commissioners handled the following issues.

• The board approved the city of Harmony's request to use a light trailer during their planned power outage on April 23 at 1 a.m. in order to provide light to the downtown area.

• Robert Bjorklund of Bjorklund Compensation Consulting presented the board with the results of a recent salary study, which compared and analyzed the pay scales of 18 Fillmore County positions to identical or similar positions in other counties. The board made no decision on changing their salary ranges, but was told that it would cost the county around $84,000 to adjust their entire pay plan to conform to current market values.

• The next county board meeting will be held April 23 at 9 a.m.