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Frac sand mine takes Houston County to courts

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Fracking Sand
In this April 18, 2011 photo, the Unimin sand is prized by the fracking industry because the individual grains are very hard and round, in Ottawa, Minn. Energy companies use "frac sand" to extract natural gas and oil from underground rock in a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The sand has perfectly round, hard and chemically inert grains, Minnesota Public Radio reported Friday, April 22, 2011. (AP Photo/Minnesota Public Radio, Mark Steil)

A Houston County mining company and two mine owners are asking a Wabasha County judge to allow them to continue mining and processing sand in Houston County, after the county ordered them to stop because of the county’s ongoing moratorium.

 Minnesota Sands LLC and mine owners Tracie and Michelle Erickson are scheduled to go before Terrence Walters  today to fight the stop work order the county issued in July against the mine, located a few miles east of Rushford in the western edge of the county.

The mine, now called the Erickson Quarry, was created and permitted in 1992 to provide sand for a bridge construction. The current owners bought the property in 2010 and began mining sand — assuming, they said, that the original permit still covered their work.

The county issued a stop work order in July, arguing that the owners were operating outside the permit conditions, and that the permit doesn’t cover the scope of the operation or the amount of sand the owners want to mine.

The county issued the order to “preserve the status quo until the County could determine what work was going on on-site, and complete its analysis of the scope of permissible activity,” according to an affidavit filed by Houston County Environmental Services Director Richard Frank.

The owners can’t apply for new permits because of the county’s yearlong moratorium, which the Houston County Board of Commissioners approved in February and which prohibits new frac sand mines.

Minnesota Sands is arguing, in its push to continue to mine sand during the moratorium, that the moratorium doesn’t specifically address the operations of existing mines.

“No activities in violation of the current CUP have taken place at the Erickson Quarry,” owner Tracie Erickson wrote in a affidavit.

The case is scheduled to be heard at 9 a.m. in the Wabasha County Courthouse.

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