Houston County commissioners took the recommendation of their Planning Commission (PC) on Dec. 3, voting unanimously to grant a five-year conditional use permit (CUP) for a mine expansion in Caledonia Township.

Bonanza Grain/Kruckow Rock Products operates the bedding/construction sand mine. The company requested a new CUP last spring after county staff discovered that the facility had expanded beyond its permitted boundary. The original 2001 CUP allowed blasting on approximately 10 acres, while the expansion would raise that to 17.08 acres situated on a 27.5 acre parcel.

When the CUP application for the expansion came before the PC in May, two neighboring homeowners objected, stating that blasting at the facility was already damaging their homes and an expanded footprint could make the situation worse.

The PC originally recommended, and commissioners approved a six-month extension of the old CUP with further review after a carefully monitored blast would help determine if the homes were in fact being damaged.

That explosion occurred on Oct. 24.

Both the Brent Schroeder home and the Nancy Schroeder residence included seismographs for the blast, which was set to mimic one which took in place in April. The Schroeders had singled that event out as being particularly troublesome.

Results indicated that shocks from the October blast (both peak particle velocity and air pressure) were within federal limits.

At distances of 300 to 5000 feet, the maximum allowable peak particle velocity is 1.00 inches per second. The data from the October blast showed a maximum reading at the nearby Back 40 restaurant (.230), while the two homes in question were lower. The Brent Schroeder residence seismograph measured .160 inches per second, while the Nancy Schroeder home recorded less (.113). Air overpressure readings have a federal limit of 134 dB. The Brent Schroeder site recorded 117 dB in October, while the Nancy Schroeder home experienced 110 dB.

Three citizens urged commissioners to reconsider before granting the CUP without requiring an environmental assessment worksheet (EAW). One of the issues is the total size of the mine "during its existence." (Minnesota Statute 116C.991)

Caledonia resident Bruce Kuehmichel contacted the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (EQB), and received a reply from Principal Planner Jeff Smyser that silica sand mines that excavate more than 20 acres will all require an EAW. Smyser stated that the entire life of the mine site must be considered when calculating the total footprint, "not only what will be mined in the next X years."

Planning Commission member Dan Griffin told the board that the statute only applies to silica sand that is "commercially valuable."

"The production from this mine does not meet this requirement... This statute does not apply to Bonanza Grain," Griffin said. He later added, "This is not frac sand...

The new CUP requires that all neighbors within a half-mile be given 24 hour notice prior to blasting. Four seismographs will be required for all further blasts, including one at each of the Schroeder residences.

Two other CUPs were granted, and a third renewed. The first is for a home agriculture-oriented business (wine production) for Robin Schlegel of Union Township. The second allows James and Cindy Burg of Winnebago Township to perform land alteration in a shoreland district. That permit stems from placement of fill near another home occupation (a converted historic mill). Some soils which were placed without permission along county road 5 will need to be removed, and other fill placed in a wetland area also moved, Zoning Administrator Bob Scanlan said. The fill can be put south of the mill to create a parking lot.

A CUP for the operation of the mill as a rental for events such as receptions and overnight stays was tabled by the PC last month, Scanlan said.

The yearly renewal of a CUP for Zenke Partnership of Hokah Township to sell black dirt passed without comment.

The board also voted to approve a preliminary plat for a one-lot subdivision for Larry Hanson of Yucatan Township. In addition, 12 already-issued building permits were approved.

Other news

Commissioners voted to grant a contract to Pathfinder CRM of Spring Grove to prepare a historic structure report on the Houston County Courthouse. Personnel/facilities Director Tess Kruger said that five firms submitted proposals to do the work, and the Spring Grove company provided the lowest and most inclusive bid. Pathfinder CRM will complete the report for a total cost "not to exceed $10,000." The actual contract has not yet been drafted, but the vote authorizes that step.

The board also approved $12,164 in already-budgeted spending by the county's highway department. Purchases will include an industrial balance scale, a "self-leveling laser," and a GPS data collector.