Houston County commissioners continue to struggle with the issue of frac sand mining. After asking state agencies for help with legal language that would allow the county to ban the practice, Chairperson Teresa Walter reported on their reply last week.

"I heard back from the EQB (Minnesota Environmental Quality Board)," Walter said. "They don't do anything as far as banning or restricting it (industrial silica sand mining), but they do offer any kind of technical assistance we want. They suggested that we work on an ordinance, because if we don't have something ready by March of 2015, it reverts back to our original zoning ordinance. They said that we can work on a process to consider banning it, but at the same time work on the ordinance, in parallel."

While a possible ban is studied, Walter suggested setting up a committee to draw up a new ordinance, which would conceivably allow prospectors to operate in the county. She favored having representatives from the Root River Soil and Water Conservation District, and Houston County's highway department, department of public health, zoning/environmental services, planning commission, and county board in the group. Commissioner Justin Zmyewski suggested including someone from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources as well.

On a related note, the board went into closed session for a conference call with their land use attorney (Jay Squires of Rupp, Anderson, Squires & Waldspurger, P.A.) to discuss "pending litigation" against Houston County.

Resignation accepted

The board accepted the resignation of full-time jailer/dispatcher Bruce Muenkel, effective March 1. Commissioners also voted to initiate an internal search to fill the job from their part-time or 67-day staff. The motion included language that will allow another search to "back-fill" whatever part-time position is vacated.

Roads and bridges

Commissioners approved a permit application for work that will fill 764 square feet of wetlands in order to replace a bridge over Badger Creek.

"We've been working on this for four years," Environmental Services director Rick Frank told the board. The Charlie Drive bridge project included a public comment period, which brought no objections from state or local agencies, Frank said.

County engineer Brian Pogodzinski brought a plat amendment for the reconstruction of County 5 (Winnebago Street) from the Caledonia city limits to County 249.

"We had to amend the plat to change the right of way purchase," Pogodzinski reported. The issue involved a property owner, and the placement of the new sidewalk. The plat was approved. A cooperative agreement with the city of Caledonia for the same project will likely be ready for commissioners to sign next week, he added.

Human Services looks at adoptions help

Human Services director Linda Bahr appeared with HS supervisors Karen Kohlmeyer and Timothy Hunter, bringing the board up to date on a variety of issues.

Bahr said that talks are being held with four nearby counties on the possibility of a shared position that would focus entirely on adoptions.

"It's really, really time-consuming..." she noted.

Hunter said that caseworkers who have to focus on child safety/well being sometimes have to put off working on the more permanent solution which adoptions can offer. Having a concurrent adoptions person wading through a sea of specialized paperwork would definitely speed up the process, he noted.

Bahr said that state aid is available to help with adoptions cases, which would also benefit the county's financial situation.

"I think having this (person) would make the time-frame a little shorter," she added. "Instead of some little kid waiting a year and a half, maybe we could cut it in half, or at least take six months off that.

"It would be the nicest thing for the child and the adoptive family.

There are two adoptions in progress in Houston County at the moment, Bahr reported, with three more children waiting.

Other news

Commissioners approved credit cards for both their new Public Health/nursing director and home care coordinator.

The board tabled a resolution that favors bills currently before the State Legislature (HF 1286 and SF 1152). The legislation would allow counties to "publish certain notices" on their websites instead of in an official newspaper. Editor Emily Bialkowski of the Caledonia Argus spoke during the public comment session, urging commissioners to consider the ramifications of the bills. Not everyone has Internet access, or checks county websites to access information vital to open local government, she noted.