Houston County Planning Commission members visit the Bonanza Grain sand mine just outside Caledonia. Zoning Administrator Bob Scanlan and commissioners Dan Griffin, Terry Rosendahl (facing the mine), Dana Kjome and Glenn Kruse, resident Nancy Schroeder, and commissioner Bruce Lee are pictured.
Houston County Planning Commission members visit the Bonanza Grain sand mine just outside Caledonia. Zoning Administrator Bob Scanlan and commissioners Dan Griffin, Terry Rosendahl (facing the mine), Dana Kjome and Glenn Kruse, resident Nancy Schroeder, and commissioner Bruce Lee are pictured.
On June 20, a conditional use permit (CUP) hearing for a Bonanza Grain/Kruckow Rock Products sand mine in Caledonia Township was again on the agenda of the Houston County Planning Commission.

Tabled last month for more information after two residents cited possible damage to their homes from blasting, the permit application would expand the mine footprint from approximately 10 acres to 27.5.

The expansion was sought after county staff discovered that the mine had outgrown its permitted area.

A blast made on April 4 initiated a damage complaint, which in turn uncovered the fact that the mine was operating outside of its permitted area, Zoning Administrator Bob Scanlan reported.

He said the site produces sand for livestock bedding and construction. Commissioners toured the mine as well as the two homes in question on June 18.

The public hearing began with a presentation by consultant Michael P. Spors of Vibra-Tech Engineers, Inc. who spoke on behalf of the company.

Spors said that as Chicago area manager of a firm that specializes in blasting analysis, monitoring and evaluation, he had expertise that commissioners could use.

"We analyze manmade vibrations," Spors stated. "We offer independent third-party vibration results."

Both three-dimensional "ground motion" and "air overpressure" components and effects were reviewed in depth.

Using seismographic records collected near two homes that lie closer to the mine than any others, Spors concluded that the possibility of damage to the two Schroeder homes (which did not have seismographs present) as discussed on May 23 was "extremely low."

"There's only been eight blasts since 2010 at the quarry," he reported, displaying data that plotted the most powerful blast as only 53 percent of the federal limit on energy transmitted to the structures.

Spors also said that he had documented the cracking at both the Nancy Schroeder and Brent Schroeder homes.

The Brent Schroeder home was built three years ago, Nancy Schroeder reported. Currently 1,500 feet from the mine, the proposed expansion would bring the facility up to the 1,000-foot setback which zoning requires.

Her own home is older, Schroeder said, but has significant cracking. Commissioners were told that it lies 2,700 feet from the mine as the facility presently exists.

Mrs. Schroeder identified herself as Brent's mother. He was not able to attend the meeting, but reported in May that he had cracking along drywall joints.

"I would like to see you not give them a permit." she said. "I would just as soon see them stop it right now. Brent isn't here today, and his wife isn't here, but even the trim on the siding is falling off.

"I'm old, and I'll probably end up fixing mine, but I don't think any of these fellows would like blasting near their house or their mother's house... blasting that they know would be doing some damage to it. For Brent's sake, I really would like to see it stopped."

Jenny Schroeder (Brent's wife) arrived later. She said, "When you're in the house, and you see pictures falling down the walls, that's scary."

Schroeder was asked if her family was notified prior to blasts. She said they were not.

"Our kids play in the woods all the time, so that's why I was wondering about how close they are to our property line."

Other residents also spoke at the hearing. Yvonne Krogstad said, "I was under the impression that they had violated their previous conditional use permit, and I don't understand why you would even consider giving them another one."

Caledonia resident Bruce Kuehmichel also spoke. Reading from the Houston County Zoning Ordinance, he stated, "Failure to comply... shall cause automatic termination of the permit..."

In a heated exchange with some commissioners, Kuehmichel finally said, "Are you not going to comply with your own laws?"

Commissioner Dan Griffin noted that further blasting is not being allowed; an action that was taken once the violation was confirmed.

Kuehmichel countered that the mine continues to operate, hauling loads of sand that previous blasts have loosened.

Commissioner Dana Kjome said, "A couple months ago, I was asked if I had read the ordinances. I was given the book, and I spent a couple weekends reading it. I read the part that Bruce quoted, and it made sense to me that they violated their CUP, and they should have been terminated automatically.

"They did it to themselves. If this book doesn't mean that, then why did I spend my weekends reading it?"

Chairman Charlie Wieser said, "If you're going to do this for one person, you're going to have to treat more people like that. You're going to set precedence, and the way Bob (Scanlan) is going at it is altogether different. That's the way the county has been going at it.

"If you're going to press the issue on this one, there's going to be a lot of issues."

Scanlan said, "With the first feedlot that's not compliant, do we sell the cows? The first cabin that's not compliant, tear it down? The list goes on and on here."

Scanlan said the county attorney's office has historically tried to work with CUP holders to bring them into compliance when violations occur rather than terminate.

"She wants me to work with landowners," he concluded. "She doesn't want to be in court on every little zoning issue."

"I just think we need to be fair," Kjome said.

Returning to the ordinance book, Kuehmichel said that the words "shall" and "will" are mandatory. "You don't have a choice. You either follow the law or you're breaking the law."

Arguments continued on the issue of following the exact letter of the zoning ordinance versus the operating procedure, which Scanlan described. Both sides cited issues of fairness.

Commissioner Dan Griffin finally proposed a solution, which was approved with only one "no" vote (from Kjome).

Bonanza Grain will be allowed to continue to operate the mine under a new CUP for six months. During that time, they will be expected to perform one (and only one) blast, with full documentation on all aspects (including logs) to be made available.

Seismographs are to be placed at all four homes mentioned at the hearing, including the two Schroeder residences. The blast is to duplicate as closely as possible the April 4 event.

All homeowners within a half-mile will be notified beforehand. Afterwards the data from the seismographs will be reviewed, and the homes will be re-visited to see if any changes have occurred.

Griffin said, "In the event we find the blast to be intolerable or not in conformity or at a level that could cause damage, then we would give you six months to remove the production from that blast. You would have six months (only) to get production out."

That determination (on whether the mine will be allowed to continue to operate) will be made at another public hearing.

The county board will decide whether or not to approve the CUP with recommendation at their July 2.

For more information about other hearings held at the Board of Adjustment and Planning Commission meeting, look elsewhere in this week's Herald.