In its Feb. 26 meeting, the Fillmore County Board of Commissioners agreed to send a request to the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (EQB) concerning the silica sand mining projects being operated by Minnesota Sand, LLC.

It was a request for the EQB to designate a state agency to act as a regulatory government unit (RGU), which, the county hopes, would prepare one Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) pertaining to silica sand projects spanning Fillmore, Houston, and Winona counties. This request was sent in response to an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) completed by Winona County officials that resulted in them being asked to write an EIS for silica sand projects being operated in their county.

According to the board on Tuesday, it didn't make sense for each county involved in Minnesota Sands' silica sand mine projects to have to submit a separate EIS since the silica mine sites being discussed have environmental implications for the three county area.

According to the EQB, an EAW is completed to provide information about the environmental impact a project may have in its area. An EIS is usually completed to follow up the EAW and provide more information on the project. Between the time an EAW is submitted and an EIS is completed there is a 30-day window where public comments can be collected by the RGU. The RGU is made up of one or a number of state government agencies the EQB determines has the responsibility of handling the EAWs and EISs.

The statement sent out by the county described that Fillmore County understands the need to submit an EIS since the silica sand sites are located close together.

The proposed sites near St. Charles, Pilot Mound and Rushford are all being operated by Minnesota Sands. Fillmore County stated further that since the silica sand projects in one county are so close to other projects in the other two counties, one county does not have the jurisdiction to complete an EIS for any other county. According to the statement, Minnesota Sands has already agreed to complete an EIS for all projects.

Commissioner Duane Bakke went on to explain that Fillmore County is requesting a state agency to act as the RGU that would prepare the EIS because it would reduce confusion, streamline information and allow a better study on the proposed silica sand sites to be completed. "The EIS should all be state run," Bakke stated.

Bakke also mentioned that the Minnesota Senate Committee on Energy and the Environment would be voting on a bill that would call for the state to do a generic EIS on silica sand mining in the three counties highlighted. It would also allow moratoriums restricting mining in those counties to be extended two more years, until 2015.

Highway matters

In the other discussion at the board meeting, during the highway committee report, Bakke talked about county cost sharing for municipal projects. "Right now, our cost share is at zero percent as it pertains to sidewalk, curb and gutter projects," he stated noting that the county should be sharing 50 percent of the cost.

Commissioner Chairman Randy Dahl said a change like that would make a difference in some projects getting done or not.

County coordinator Karen Brown asked if there was a policy that would need to be amended and brought to the board, to which Bakke affirmed. There is a state law that says cities with populations over 5,000 people are helped by the state in municipal projects dealing with county roads in municipalities.

"None of our cities are over 5,000, so that's why we help them out," explained Bakke.

The Highway Department accepted the low bids for gasoline and diesel fuel for six county locations.

County engineer Ronald Gregg also received approval from the board to apply for federal grant funds to be used for County State Aid Highway 1 north of Spring Valley. The federal grant solicitations for 2017 are due Friday. Gregg said they were considering holding off on applying, but the Legislature recently came up with new regulations on utilizing federal funds, which would affect the department should it receive the federal grants.

Passport Day

Auditor/treasurer Shirl Boelter announced that Passport Day in the USA would be on March 9. The Fillmore County auditor/treasurer's office will be open from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. anyway for township election absentee voting. Services will include passport processing and applications for passport renewal. Additional information can be found on the Fillmore County website under the Auditor/Treasurer Department and Passports.

Other items

The board approved renewal of a service agreement with the Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center. Community Services director Beth Wilms said it was a mental health service provider that the county has a good relationship with.

The board approved the renewal of hauler permits for Wm. Hanson Waste Removal, S & S Sanitation, Richard's Sanitation, Waste Management of Rochester, Harter's Trash & Recycling and Advanced Disposal of Rochester.