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Glenwood City school board, council at odds

Last Monday, March 10, Glenwood City School District Superintendent Tim Emholtz read a letter before the Glenwood City Council outlining issues central to the safety of students and staff with regard to the impending approval of a frac sand mine a half mile from the school.

In the letter, Emholtz referred to a draft memorandum of understanding (MOU) more than a year old that is still being negotiated between mining company Vista Sand and the school district. Emholtz acknowledged receiving a draft of the new pre-annexation agreement between Vista and the city just last week introducing at least the possibility that the city is proceeding to establish an agreement with Vista on its own timeline independent of the school district’s concerns.

“It is critical that the district have the opportunity to analyze the terms of the pre-annexation agreement to determine how they might correlate with, or deviate from, the terms of the draft MOU, and to also deliberatively consider whether the documents, together, would provide suitable protections for the district from any mining activities that may occur,” Emholtz said in his letter. “This is particularly critical given the fact the pre-annexation agreement is so detailed that it appears to leave little discretion to a future city council to impose additional conditions or limitations through land use approval processes (the processes where such conditions and limitations are typically vetted and imposed).”

Emholtz cited four specific areas of concern:

— Noise

— Pre-blasting survey

— Blasting notification

— Direct notification from Vista Sand to the School District in the event of a hazardous waste or spill situation

He also noted similarities between a Community Education Task Force being created in the city agreement and a technological evaluation panel being discussed in the district’s MOU but expressed concern about the role and authority of the task force.

In light of the district’s concerns, Emholtz encouraged the council to “table consideration of the pre-annexation agreement for a reasonable period of time.”

The City Council consented and voted to table any further discussion of a nonmetallic mining agreement with Vista Sand for 30 days to give the district more time to evaluate the proposed agreement.

Amendments to

zoning ordinance

Emholtz fears that future city councils will have limited authority to impose additional conditions or limitations through land use approval processes where such conditions and limitations are typically vetted and imposed, was realized when the council approved a series of amendments to the city’s zoning ordinance.

The new amendments appear to combine what would normally be a two-tiered process by which land targeted for annexation is first zoned residential and then the landowner can petition the city to change the zoning to suit the intended usage. That procedure allows the municipality to evaluate the intended usage and alerts citizens to the process and gives them an opportunity to provide input during the procedure. The new amendments approved Monday night appear to have consolidated several of those steps into one seamless process sidestepping any opportunity for citizen input.

The board approved the following:

— To allow a zoning district to be set during an annexation

— To remove reclamation and mining from the agricultural district

— To add nonmetallic mining as a conditional use in the agricultural district

— To create a separate nonmetallic mining zoning district

“By voting the way they did any land that is now touching Glenwood City land can be immediately annexed into the zoning it would like — mining, agriculture, residential — and it can bypass all of the procedures previously in place, so basically our residents have lost all say into what can and can not come into our town,” resident Charlotte Heimer said.

The board also approved annexing the city-owned parcels where the sewer treatment ponds are located, currently located outside of the city limits in the Town of Glenwood. This is an essential step necessary to the successful annexation of the land targeted for the sand mine because that land must be contiguous to city property in order to be annexed. Annexing the sewer treatment pond parcels will make that so.

At the same time that the City Council was meeting Monday night, the School Board was also meeting. More than 20 parents attended and voiced concerns to board president Dr. Charles Rasmussen regarding student health and safety particularly focused on air quality monitoring and truck traffic issues around school property.

“Please hold your ground,” said resident Deanna Schone.

Three parents said they would strongly consider removing their children from the district if the mine moved forward. It is suspected that decisions to unenroll as many as nine students so far this school year have been in some way impacted by the mine issue.

“I am not aware of any students being unenrolled directly as a result of the impending mine issue,” Emholtz said.

At a cost of $6,500 in state aid for each student, it is a potential cost of the mine that both the School Board and City Council will have to consider.

Parents questioned the status of the MOU and some questioned what impact the MOU could actually have even if it was instituted.

“So you have a MOU, who enforces it? Who enforces any of these rules? The School Board? The City Council?” asked Downing resident Sally Mounce.

“This is how we are all feeling right now. There isn’t a body to regulate any of this since it has been removed from the county’s jurisdiction. Who regulates this? Do we employ some firm to regulate it, and what does that cost? It seems like a lot of lip service at this point,” Schone said.