Sand mine ruling

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Judge Day rules 

in favor of town of Bridgeport regarding frac sand mine

By Ted Pennekamp

 

Grant County Circuit Court Judge Craig Day has ruled in favor of the town of Bridgeport regarding a lawsuit filed against the town by the Crawford Stewardship Project and four town residents who objected to the granting of permits for a sand mine in the town.

The Crawford Stewardship Project, along with Arnold Steele, Mark Fishler, Loren Fishler and Dan Linder had alleged that the Town Planning Commission and Town Board improperly granted the conditional use permit (CUP) and the mining reclamation permit (MP) to the Pattison Sand Company of Clayton, Iowa. The plaintiffs alleged that the Town Board improperly denied them a review of a hearing, that there were conflicts of interest on the part of Planning Commission and Town Board members and that there had been inadequacy of public input during the hearing process. 

In a 20-page ruling dated Jan. 30, Day said, “The court concludes that no impermissible conflicts of interest affected the material outcome of this matter, that the public hearing and public input process was statutorily adequate, and that plaintiff’s other substantive claims are barred by failure to timely invoke the appropriate administrative appeal process.”

Judge Day stated in his ruling that the appeal requesting a contested case hearing was not filed by the plaintiffs within 30 days as required and in fact was filed “substantially outside the 30-day time line.” 

The plaintiff’s had also alleged that there was conflict of interest in granting the permits because Linda Smrcina and her son Troy Smrcina were members of the Planning Commission and Linda was the Town Clerk. Linda’s son-in-law and Troy’s brother-in-law worked for the Pattison Sand Company. Judge Day stated, however, “Although the family member is a spouse of a person within the third degree of kinship to Linda Smrcina and Troy Smrcina, his role at Pattison Sand Company, LLC is not shown to violate any of the proscriptions of the judicial conduct rule. No impermissible conflict of interest existed for Linda Smrcina or Troy Smrcina.”

Landowner Alan Flansburgh could have potentially sold his land to the Pattison Sand Company, but Flansburgh was not a member of the Planning Commission when the CUP was granted. Flansburgh was a member of the Planning Commission when various conditions regarding the CUP were discussed. Judge Day concluded, however, “The matters in which Mr. Flansburgh participated were of no consequence to the CUP granting.”

Regarding the adequacy of public input, Judge Day ruled that the Planning Commission and the Town Board properly posted and conducted numerous meetings and provided for much opportunity for public input. He said that they held continuing meetings and hearings and heard from numerous individuals. The town’s zoning ordinance requires the Planning Commission to review the site and issues relating to the proposed use. “The Plan Commission went above and beyond the basic requirements of the ordinance,” said Judge Day. “It held several meetings and delayed the decision until its investigation was complete. It required a dust plan. It engaged an independent engineer to analyze and make recommendations regarding the application. The engineer presented a written report with 35 recommendations. He appeared and addressed the Board and Plan Commission on March 6, 2013. As a result of the engineer’s analysis and recommendations, additional requirements were placed upon Pattison Sand Company and a Supplemental Application was filed to comply. It consulted an official from a neighboring town with a Pattison mine to gauge the mining impact and Pattison’s history of compliance.”

Judge Day’s ruling would appear to bring the controversial issue of a frac sand mine in the town of Bridgeport to a close. However, there is the possibility of an appeal.

Of course, some people are upset with the ruling, while others are pleased.

“Judge Day’s ruling leaves Pattison Sand Company – the non-metallic mining company with the most violations of any in the nation – free to mine at Bridgeport for 60 years,” said Crawford Stewardship Project Co-coordinator Forest Jahnke.

“It (the judge’s ruling) was good news for the town,” said Town Board Chairman John Karnopp. “It was a real good day when I heard that. I think Judge Day did a very good job.”

“The decision represents a victory for property owners rights,” said the Pattison Sand Company. “We will develop these resources in a responsible manner.”

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