On July 10, the Houston County Board of Commissioners voted to issue a stop-work order for the Erickson frac-sand mine near Rushford.

Following a break in the agenda during which Chairman Jack Miller and Commissioner Justin Zmyewski contacted attorney Jay Squires, a unanimous vote to issue the edict was taken.

Squires has represented Houston County on land-use issues in previous lawsuits. The motion did not state how long work would be suspended.

Members noted that with the mine's conditional use permit (CUP) set for review on Wednesday, July 18, and with a county-wide moratorium on new mining permits in place, the operator is "jumping the gun" by proceeding.

"Based on the proposed operating plan, it seems to be exceeding what the original CUP was intended for," Miller stated.

"They're including screening and crushing and that was not part of the initial CUP. There's an expansion of the CUP, which should come back for an amendment."

Zmyewski said the acreage no longer matched the original CUP (only 19 acres is in the current proposal, versus 90 on a previous CUP renewal).

"That would require an environmental assessment worksheet (EAW)... There are also issues with a potential Native American burial ground. That would potentially require an EAW investigation."

Miller clarified the motion prior to the vote, adding, "If they do not stop work, the motion includes authorization for the county zoning office to pursue the next step (a court-ordered injunction)."

"Would what they are doing now be considered illegal?" Commissioner Steve Schuldt asked.

Commissioner Tom Bjerke said, "Whatever's happening is probably part of that overall operation. I think until we find out what we can do with this moratorium, we need to do a little bit more investigation, just to get a handle on it.

"Otherwise, I think there's going to be more and more of these little operations popping up all over the county, and we'll just be putting out fires in one place while another starts elsewhere."

"I had an issue with the lack of professionalism that the operator has brought forth," Zmyewski said.

"(He's) refusing to answer a few questions and is now going ahead, knowing that we have the permit under review.

"If they want to continue doing business in the county, I would hope that they would show a little more respect for the board's wishes - and the citizens of the county - and just wait a little bit. I know time is money, but that's not our problem.

"I've talked to other operators who have said, 'We want to be good citizens, good neighbors.' I have a hard time with how this is being pushed while we still have questions."

Editor's note: since the board met last Tuesday, the county has cancelled the scheduled hearing "since a stop work order has subsequently been issued."