When it comes to the issue of frac sand mining in Houston County, nothing comes easy.

County commissioners began to put together a study group charged with drawing up a new industrial mining ordinance on March 4, but the process did not go smoothly. Chairperson Teresa Walter suggested that she and Commissioner Dana Kjome sit on the panel, but that left one member off the committee who said that he had a strong desire to have input on the issue.

Several commissioners stated that by limiting the committee to two of their members, the meetings will not represent a quorum. That would require a published public notice and official minutes, since it would basically represent an additional meeting of the board.

"If I'm not on it, I will still be there," Commissioner Justin Zmyewski said. "It's my district where most of this activity is in. I'm the person who had spent the most time (working) on this... I will be heard at that table."

To-date, officials have identified just one prospector with plans to open frac sand mines in Houston County. Minnesota Sands has proposed 11 new mines for Winona, Fillmore and Houston counties, five of which would lie in the latter.

All five are within Zmyewski's District Two.

Walter said that as chair, "I thought I need to be informed on this." Kjome currently represents the board on the county's planning commission. Therefore, he should attend as well, she added.

"I appreciate Justin's feelings towards this committee and I think he would be a good asset," Kjome told Walter. "I request that I be left off and he be added. You can see that it means a lot to him... I expect updates from you and Justin."

The panel was tentatively set (but not yet adopted) as Walter, Zmyewski, Ron Meiners of the Root River Soil and Water Conservation District, Public Health director Mary Marchel, county engineer Brian Pogodzinski, Environmental Services director Rick Frank, zoning administrator Bob Scanlan, and two as yet unnamed members of the planning commission.

The meetings will be open to the public, but will not be official public hearings. Therefore, public comment is not necessarily allowed. If an ordinance proposal is brought to commissioners, however, a public hearing will need to be held prior to passage by the board.

"We need to start within a month, possibly within the next couple weeks," Walter said. She offered to contact planning commission members to see who is willing to serve.

Semcac request approved

Commissioners approved a request from Semcac to allow their $1000 donation to the organization's RSVP program to be reallocated to the senior dining program. Semcac was not awarded the 2014-16 program grant to continue RSVP driver service, a letter from Semcac senior services director Debbie Betthauser stated. That program will be handled by Catholic Charities - Common Good RSVP beginning on April 1, 2014.

Ash trees can go

The board signed off on a request from the city of La Crescent, agreeing to allow ash trees within the CSAH (county state aid highway) 6/29 right of way to be removed. The invasion of emerald ash borer, an insect with deadly consequences for ash trees, has necessitated replacing those trees with other species, county engineer Brian Pogodzinski stated. The boulevard is also known as Elm Street.

Legislative stance endorsed

Another document was also signed. Commissioners joined board members from 12 other counties, requesting that state legislators refrain from raising truck size and weight limits on Minnesota roadways. The missive cites public safety concerns, as well as wear and tear issues on taxpayer funded infrastructure. It includes endorsements from numerous public safety and other governmental units as well, including the Minnesota State Patrol Troopers Association.

Fest Building could become back-up headquarters for emergencies

Spring Grove's Fest Building may be considered as a back-up emergency headquarters in case of a natural or man-made disaster. Commissioners noted that the county is supposed to have a secondary site available in case the Caledonia campus cannot be used. Houston County emergency coordinator Kurt Kuhlers is expected to address the board on the issue soon.