Following an hour-long closed session with their land-use attorney (Jay Squires) via conference call, the Houston County Board of Commissioners voted to lift a stop-work order for a controversial frac sand mine near Rushford on July 17.

The edict was only in place for a week. On July 10, two board members spoke with Minneapolis attorney Squires, after which they moved to stop work over issues with the mine's conditional use permit (CUP).

Squires has represented Houston County on land-use issues during recent lawsuits.

After the July 17 meeting re-opened, Commissioner Steve Schuldt said, "After conversations with our attorney regarding the (Tracie) Erickson mine, I make a motion that we lift the stop-work order to allow mining at the Erickson mine as defined by our ordinance, that it also not allow processing of sand at this time, and that we continue discussions toward a stipulated agreement with the mining operators and the owners."

Commissioner Justin Zmyewski seconded the motion and then offered an amendment, which Schuldt accepted.

"I would add that (mine operator) Mr. Frick stated a few weeks ago that there would only be about 4 to 5 trucks an hour going through there. I would put that on the motion that they mine at that rate, which he had specified."

Commissioner Teresa Walter cast the lone vote against the measure. Commissioner Tom Bjerke was not present.

Chairman Jack Miller did not oppose Schuldt's motion, but expressed regret over the turn of events.

Houston County currently has a moratorium in place for new mine permits in order to study frac sand mining. The Erickson mine is still covered under an existing CUP originally issued in 1992.

"I'm deeply disappointed personally," Miller stated. "Goodhue County had a moratorium, Wabasha County had a moratorium, Winona County had a moratorium, all for the same reasons. Unless somebody was under a rock at one of these quarries, they'd understand why we imposed the moratorium.

"I would have hoped that the party would have come forward and said, 'We understand this, and we'd like to work with you.' That didn't occur. We're in a position now where we're going to need to negotiate a reasonable agreement to look out for the welfare of the citizens of Houston County."

Frac sand mining opponents expressed disappointment with the decision.

"Is the (Houston County) moratorium invalid as soon as anyone threatens to sue?" resident Mike Fields asked.

"If we had known about frac sand the last time our ordinance was amended, we could have taken it into consideration," Environmental Services director Rick Frank said.

"It puts the county in a no-win situation right now. Moving forward, we can address those types of things."

The CUP that the mine operates under has been a bone of contention for commissioners, who voted to hold a public hearing on the matter, which was cancelled following the stop-work order. Originally opened as an aggregate sand mine in 1992, the site was recently resurrected as a candidate for frac sand production.