Houston Co. residents clash over proposed changes to mining ordinance

Residents in Houston County argued about proposed amendments to the current mining ordinance Tuesday night.

The citizen group Houston County Protectors took it upon themselves to draft a new version to the Houston County Mineral Extraction Ordinance because it says the current one is inadequate in certain areas.

Bryan Van Gorp is a member of the environmental advocacy group. He said after two failed attempts by the county to rewrite its Mineral Extraction ordinance, HCP decided to take a shot at it.

“We want to get a ban on frac sand mining and we want to bring all the non-conforming mines into following the ordinance, and the third thing we would like to accomplish is to create a process for people who have complaints about mining violations where they’re actually heard and some action is taken,” Van Gorp said. “Recently, we filed complaints against mining violations and they’re just not acknowledged, nobody does anything, no one acknowledges that we have filed a complaint, nothing is said and obviously that’s not right.”

Van Gorp said about 120 of the 130 or so mines in Houston County are non-conforming, or grandfathered in, and only about 30 of those mines are actually operational today.

“If we get it down to a reasonable number like that then it’s possible to enforce the ordinance and manage those mines in a constructive way,” he said.

Van Gorp feels the HCP amendment is good for everyone, including miners, and it will not affect current mining operations as long as those mines are compliant.

Some of the local mining companies disagree with that statement.

“The proposal is not only ill-advised, but would result in increased costs because for better or for worse the cost regulation is going to increase the price of the rock,” said Ron Fadness of Bruening Rock Products.

“This proposed amendment will have a specific impact, a negative impact, on the smaller mine owners because these additional requirements are going to increase the cost of business and the small mine owners cannot absorb the costs as easily as some of the bigger miners can because we don’t move the same amount of material as some of the other ones do,” said Michael Kruckow of Bonanza Grain, Kruckow Rock Products.

All of the companies that stood against the amendment did say they have no problem with a ban on frac sand mining.

There were several other opponents of the proposed changes in the standing-room-only crowd, including members of two separate Houston County township boards.

Tuesday night’s hearing was in front of the Houston County Planning Commission. The commission voted 5-2 to not recommend approval of the amendment to the Houston County Board.

The Houston County Protectors said they will still bring the proposal to the county board.