A new county comprehensive plan doesn't have to be carved in stone.

At Monday's meeting of the Board of Supervisors, the Board approved the plan on a 4-0 vote. Supervisor Floyd Ashbacher was absent.

The action came just two weeks shy of the May 1 deadline the county must meet in order to receive a $60,000 community development block grant.

During a public hearing prior to the vote, Winneshiek County Zoning Administrator Tony Phillips said the county is already on its second time extension and would forfeit the funds if the plan were not approved.

The Board fielded a number of comments, mostly having to do with frac-sand mining in the county.

Those in favor of adding specific language to the comprehensive plan regarding frac-sand mining expressed a number of concerns.

Attorney Karl Knudson, who represents the Winneshiek County Protectors (WCP), a group recently formed to monitor frac-sand activity in the county, said he'd like to see the plan specifically address the St. Peter sandstone formation, where frac-sand is found.

"The gap I saw is that it doesn't address how the St. Peter aquifer is important to the entire county," said Knudson, adding he thinks the plan should address what resources the county needs to protect.

John Rodecap, a farmer and former ISU Extension watershed coordinator from Calmar, said the county should take time to study what's happening with similar resources in neighboring states.

Dick Janson of Decorah, a member of WCP, said he felt the Board should pass the plan as written, due to the funding requirements, but "be made aware there is a tremendous desire to revisit the comprehensive plan and make it even better than it is."

Board Chair John Logsdon agreed.

"Just because this happens (the plan is approved), doesn't mean it can't be amended or changed," said Logsdon.



Compromise

Merlin Studt of Decorah said while WCP's concerns are shared by a lot of people in the county, "We all live here because it's a pristine area and we want to do the best we can. We also need to earn a living, so we have to look at compromise," said Studt.

Studt said he felt the county already has the tools and devices in place to address frac-sand mining through conditional-use permits.

"We need to continue to run government the way it should be, not make special exceptions for one product or issue," said Studt.

Kurt Oakes of Olson Explosives in Decorah said he thinks mining contains too many site-specific issues to be addressed in the county's plan.

"When it comes to mining, you can't write it down as a recipe from Betty Crocker," said Oakes, adding mining companies are required through the conditional-use permit process to address each site's requirements on a case-by-case basis.

"Put the weight of all this research and engineering function back on the mining companies. You have the knowledge to ask the questions, you should not be responsible for knowing the answers," said Oakes.



Other concerns

In addition to the frac-sand issue, M.J. Hatfield of Decorah said she felt the plan was lacking with regard to sharing the natural history and ecology of the area. She also felt some of the language lacked conviction.

"Terms like 'encourage' are not strong enough ... I think this is just putting a little bit of a happy glow on everything," she said.

Additionally, Hatfield cited Iowa's dirty water, the area's invasive plant species, the loss of wetlands and endangered animal species as items that should be addressed in the plan.

Logsdon responded while her points were well taken, much of what she mentioned is governed under state or federal agencies.