Citizen Action in SE MN Blocks Illegal Permitting of Erickson Silica Sand Mine

Events surrounding the Erickson silica sand mine in Houston County are moving very fast, and citizen action is making a difference at every turn.

The Houston County Board of Commissioners was scheduled to vote at their Tuesday, June 3, meeting on approving the conditional use permit for the Erickson silica sand mine near Rushford, Minn. Approving this permit would be a violation of state law. The mine cannot be permitted while it remains under an environmental review requirement (see LSP's earlier post on this issue, “EQB Tables Erickson Mine EIS Question,” for details). And silica sand mining at the site would require a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Trout Stream Setback Permit. Also, there is a moratorium on silica sand mining in Houston County until March 2015. Despite all this, some Houston County staff and officials were advocating for approving the Erickson mine now. The Houston County Planning Commission voted 5-2 on May 22 to recommend approval of the permit to the Board of Commissioners, and the Board appeared ready to make this vote June 3.

But legal action taken by Houston County citizens has stopped this silica sand mine for now, and perhaps will even stop it for good. Citizens filed a writ of mandamus with the court, which was signed by a judge on Monday, June 2. Essentially, a writ of mandamus is a process for asking a judge to order the government to follow the law. The writ requires the county to declare that the original Erickson mine permit has expired, that it cannot be renewed, and that if a new permit is applied for, it is subject to the county moratorium on silica sand mining and to all relevant state law. State law would require the site to receive a DNR Silica Sand Mining Trout Stream Setback Permit, which takes over a year to apply for and includes tough standards. Because the Erickson site is within one mile of a designated trout stream, no silica sand mining may take place there unless the DNR decides to grant this special permit.

The fact that the judge signed the writ is an indication that the citizens' case is very persuasive. The judge ordered a hearing at which Houston County has the opportunity to dispute the facts and to try to overturn the writ. The date was set for Friday, June 6, but was postponed, and a new hearing date has not yet been set. Watch for further updates on the progress of this case.

The writ of mandamus is worth reading and available online here. Also, here is a video of the June 3 Houston County Commissioners meeting in which the board chair abruptly and outrageously shut down the public comment period after citizens attempted to speak about the Erickson mine issue.

Land Stewardship Project organizer Johanna Rupprecht can be contacted at 507-523-3366 or jrupprecht@landstewardshipproject.org.