This is the last in a series of posts about a dispute in Houston County, Minnesota. The Erickson mine had been part of a scheme to produce major quantities of sand for use in hydraulic fracturing. The frac operation never got off the ground, and Erickson pulled out. As we have explained in our last two posts, the sequence of events has forced the mine to go through a more complicated permit renewal process. We are picking up where we left off in our July 14, 2014, post.
Erickson cleared another hurdle when the state released the mine from the environmental impact statement requirement, and the renewal request went to the county commission again. Erickson had reassured everyone that the permit was for production sand, not frac sand.
One of the commissioners had a serious concern about renewing the permit. Mines must include an operation plan with the application, and Erickson's plan looked a lot like the one that was filed with the frac sand permit request. Another inconsistency on the renewal was the size of the site; it was much smaller this time than in the past.
These red flags may have tipped the scales for local opponents of fracking, too. Skeptical that Erickson would indeed limit production to construction sand, they petitioned the court to block the permit renewal. The argument was on a technicality: You cannot renew a permit that has expired. Erickson should have to start the permit application process all over again.
The court denied the request for a number of reasons. One of those reasons was that the opponents had other legal options, like petitioning for an injunction once the permit has been renewed. An injunction would shut the mine down while the parties tried to resolve the controversy.
The county commission approved the renewal of Erickson's conditional use permit. According to the county land use attorney, there really was no other choice. Once granted, a conditional use permit renews automatically, in perpetuity, he said. Only if the mine violates the conditions can the county act to revoke the permit.
Winona Post, "Houston sand mine appeal denied," Chris Rogers, June 25, 2014
Home-town News, "Houston County sand mine to reopen," Craig Moorhead, July 7, 2014