Would have allowed agricultural landowners to mine without getting a special permit

ROCKPORT — It was standing room only at the Spencer County Commissioners meeting Wednesday as the three-man board made a decision about a local ordinance governing mining.

Had the commissioners not struck it down, the proposed ordinance amendment would have changed the county’s special exception requirements for land in agriculture zones and made mineral extraction, including surface coal mining, a permitted use on agricultural land. Currently, property owners must obtain a special exception permit from the county’s board of zoning appeals to open mines on their properties.

The proposed change came at the request of three petitioners who own land near county roads 500 East and 600 East and Indiana 245, the Spencer County Journal Democrat reported in October. In April, the petitioners sought to open a surface coal mine managed by Sun Energy of Huntingburg on their property.

The county’s board of zoning appeals denied their special exception permit after significant opposition from residents. The petitioners then took the request to the Spencer County Circuit Court, which ended in an unfavorable ruling. After the court’s decision, the petitioners sought to change the county ordinances. That effort has also proven unsuccessful after Wednesday’s vote from the commissioners.

Of the three commissioners, only Tom Brown supported the change. He said he believed that if property owners have minerals on their land, they should have the right to mine them.

“Mining is something we’ve had in the county for years,” Brown said.

Brown added that he believes there are enough mining regulations at the state and federal levels.

The other two commissioners — Jim Seilers and Al Logsdon — were not convinced, and both voted against the change, to the relief of many in attendance.

The county’s ordinances currently require special exception permits from the board of zoning appeals for many uses of agricultural land, including auto body shops, farm equipment sales, veterinary clinics and roadside fruit stands.

John Wetherill, attorney for the Spencer County Board of Zoning Appeals and Plan Commission, explained that the board didn’t see why these uses should require a special exception permit, but the mine should not.

“It’s not unreasonable to require people to prove a mine won’t be harmful,” Wetherill said.

Kevin Patmore, a Santa Claus attorney, shared similar arguments. He is representing about 40 property owners near the proposed Sun Energy mine that are against both the mine and the change in county ordinances.

Patmore also pointed out that changing the ordinance now didn’t make much sense. The county’s plan commission has a comprehensive planning process underway, and Patmore pointed out that if the commissioners wanted to make a change to ordinances, the change could be considered as part of the comprehensive plan.

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