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Tom Bice, chairman of the Environment and Land Use Committee, said in an interview that he’s known “for a while” that Suchla has some sort of financial interest in the local frac sand industry. But he said Suchla has “made a point” to keep it to himself and avoid influencing colleagues.
“So maybe it is a little sneaky,” Bice said. “But I wouldn’t think so.”
Bice, who has sided with Suchla and others in support of using county land to generate frac sand revenue, termed Miller’s complaint “internal politics” and said he regrets that she brought it forward. Of Suchla, he said: “I don’t think he’s a corrupt guy. He’s a very abrasive person, so he upsets a lot of people. That’s just the way he is. He’s just very blunt.”
Irate phone call
Miller’s complaint does not cite specific examples of Suchla trying to influence colleagues on frac sand matters, but says: “I believe he used promises of favors, threats of political retribution and just plain bullying.”
Miller’s complaint also alleges that Suchla abused his authority last month by calling county Health Director Sherry Rhoda one week after the county health board approved a resolution advancing the sand moratorium. When Rhoda returned Suchla’s call, the complaint said, he immediately put her on speaker phone with local frac sand investors who grew irate and “grilled” her about the moratorium.
Suchla said very little during the phone call except to apologize to Rhoda for putting her on the “hot seat,” the complaint said. Rhoda did not return telephone calls from the Star Tribune about the alleged incident and Suchla did not take questions about it.
Lien, whose office is at the center of every frac sand request, said Suchla periodically visited him with Sand Tran partners to discuss frac sand permitting processes — a practice that Lien characterized as inappropriate.
Lien said he suspected Suchla had a financial interest in sand mining — a suspicion that was confirmed by a document found in the courthouse three months ago by one of his staff members. Lien said the document described a business association between Hi-Crush and Sand Tran, listing Suchla and other county residents as insiders at Sand Tran. Lien said the document was found by county employee Nick Gamroth and quickly obtained by the County Board’s lawyer.
Lien said that, confronted by Suchla, he asked the county supervisor how he could “forget” what he had seen in the document. That’s when Suchla repeated his warning to “nip this in the bud and we’ll forget about it,” Lien said.
“I kind of took it as it was some kind of threat,” said Lien, who noted that Suchla could attempt to cut his department budget as an influential member of the finance committee.
Suchla told the Star Tribune that he’s entitled to work in the sand business, just as farmers on the County Board are entitled to make a living in agriculture, another permitted industry.
Suchla said he supports the use of county lands in the frac sand business, saying it would be good for county taxpayers.
Tony Kennedy • 612-673-4213