A disputed sand mine in Houston County’s bluff country won a legal challenge against the state Department of Natural Resources this week, ostensibly clearing the way for the resumption of mining.

The sand mine in tiny Yucatan Township in the state’s southeast corner was shut down last year by the DNR because of its proximity to Ferndale Creek, a trout stream.

State regulations require a trout stream setback permit for mines in the Paleozoic plateau region and within one mile of a trout stream. Mine owners Tracie and Michelle Erickson argued their mine has been in existence since 1992 and therefore was not subject to the setback rule enacted in 2013.

The DNR said the mine had temporarily closed and then reopened last year, triggering the setback requirement.

An appeals court ruling issued this week sided with the Ericksons.

The mine has been at the center of an extended debate between the Ericksons, the Houston County board and environmentalists who oppose frac sand mining. The fight has seen hearings before multiple state and local boards, a restraining order filed and the suspension of a county official after he was accused of bullying mine opponents.

Matt McKinney @_mattmckinney


International Falls

Voyageurs National Park opens new paved trail

Bicyclists, joggers and others going to the Rainy Lake Visitor Center at Voyageurs National Park have a new trail to explore.

Officials last week opened the Rainy Lake Recreation Trail, a 1.7-mile paved, multiuse path from the visitor center to the International Falls Bike Trail, running parallel to County Road 96. It will not be groomed in the winter, but will allow nonmotorized use all year long, including snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

The $1 million trail, built with state and federal highway funding, features amenities including a bike parking area.

Pam Louwagie @pamlouwagie



Airport to get upgrade courtesy of DOT

Bemidji Regional Airport is about to get a half-million dollar upgrade, thanks to a new infrastructure grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The $546,535 grant will fund a new taxiway, a new shelter for the airport’s snow removal equipment and repairs to the airport’s apron.

“Strengthening the Bemidji Airport means strengthening the economy in Bemidji and the entire region,” U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said in a statement, announcing the grant last week.

The grant is the latest in a series of improvements at Minnesota regional airports, including new terminals for Duluth and the Range Regional Airport in Hibbing.

Jennifer Brooks @stribrooks