Even as one Houston County committee begins drawing up ordinances to regulate frac sand mining, a second county panel will seek legal language to ban the activity.

On March 25, Commissioner Justin Zmyewski reported that the inaugural meeting of the ordinance study committee "went well." On Monday, March 24, the panel worked to lay down some ground rules on how to approach their job, he noted. The committee has contacted Naomi Fruechte to serve as "facilitator," leading discussions.

"We talked about decisions being made from scientific data, and not having decisions based on speculation," Zmyewski said. The group will try to produce two options for a new industrial sand mining ordinance, he added. The committee's suggestions will be presented at a public hearing before commissioners vote.

Zmyewski then made a motion to convene a "parallel committee" to study what sort of legal language would be required to ban frac sand mining within Houston County. Commissioner Dana Kjome seconded, stating, "We're not making a decision (to ban) but we should have that ready to go as an option.... If we didn't like the proposal from the other committee, it would probably be too late to then start research into a banning ordinance."

Board Chair Teresa Walter objected, stating, "We need to do a little more research on who would be on it (a ban committee)... I personally would like to table the motion for another week."

Kjome asked for a roll call vote. Commissioner Judy Storlie voted "no," as did Walter. Commissioner Steve Schuldt joined Kjome and Zmyewski, supporting the measure. No names were proposed to serve on the new committee, but Zmyewski said that land-use attorney Jay Squires should be consulted on how to proceed.

On a related note, several residents spoke during the "public comment" session, urging commissioners to reject a conditional use permit for the Erickson sand mine for a variety of reasons. The Erickson property is located near Rushford, and has been a center of controversy and lawsuits ever since Minnesota Sands LLC attempted to open a frac sand mine there after the county enacted a moratorium on new frac sand mining applications. The current Erickson CUP application involves selling sand for uses other than "fracking."

Personnel votes

Commissioners voted to hire two social workers. Lisa Arneson will begin on April 8, while Malika Eisberner will start on April 21. Both job offers require background checks.

Personnel director Tess Arrick-Kruger reported that both positions and a third, which is still open, are needed to fill vacancies rather than expand the department.

Chief deputy Scott Yeiter asked the board to approve five 67-day employees to conduct river patrols this year. In addition, the same persons will be used as substitutes for highway patrol deputies. Yeiter said that utilizing the officers for both jobs will cut down on overtime, saving the county money.

Officers Robert Schuldt, Mike Ernster, Rod Humble, David Breault and Tyler Heiden were all approved on a single motion.

Other news

The board also approved a new contract with CEDA (Community and Economic Development Associates), providing for 14 hours per week of services at a cost of $25,474 per year. Arrick-Kruger said that the amount represents a 2 percent increase in the rate, and the contract will run from April 1 through Dec. 31, 2014, in order to allow future contracts to coincide with calendar years.