At 7 p.m. on Tuesday evening, September 25, the Scandia Mayor and City Council will hold a special meeting to consider the adequacy of the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) conducted by AECOM on the proposed Tiller/Zavoral mine. As proposed, this 64-acre gravel mine would be located on the river bluff just east of Scandia, at the intersection with Highway 97 and State Scenic Byway 95.
This meeting is an expected step in the environmental review process, but it’s far more than a procedural formality. This so-called “final” EIS (FEIS) is considered by many credentialed experts and concerned citizens to be incomplete and inadequate, failing to meet professional standards and the established guidelines of Minnesota environmental review law.
In other words, despite its length and cost, many believe that this FEIS does not provide a clear picture of the true impacts that may reasonably be expected if this mine is allowed to operate as described.
Reviewers of the document raise substantive concerns about questions still unanswered. Consider the following selected quotes, taken directly from letters in the official public record. Where indicated, these comments reference issues in the earlier Draft EIS (DEIS) that according to the commenter were not resolved in the Final EIS. These quotes may be seen in their full context on the City of Scandia’s website.
If you have time, read the comments to the DEIS, the Responses to comments in the DEIS (which are part of the FEIS) and the FEIS. Read the attachments prepared by independent experts such as RLK and Applied Ecological Services, hired by the citizens group Take Action – Conserve Our Scandia. It’s amazing reading. Or, get a taste from these excerpts:
“RLK finds the report devoid of the technical analysis needed to evaluate the traffic operations and safety of the project.”(Comment to DEIS) “The lack of technical material makes it impossible to independently confirm whether the issues have been properly addressed. … Developing the mine without appropriate traffic analysis, as we recommend, could result in significant safety issues to Scandia and the surrounding communities, including the increased risk for severe or fatal collisions. (Comment to FEIS)
Vernon E. Swing, P.E., Principal Traffic Engineer, RLK Engineering Inc.
“Given the alleged failure of a berm at Tiller’s Grantsburg mine and the resulting environmental degradation, the FEIS proposed solution of securing applicant funding for “aggressive monitoring” of operations at the proposed Tiller/Zavoral is cold comfort to communities down river. May Township requests that the FEIS recognize and assess the increased risk of irreversible impacts due to the operator’s history of violations and noncompliance with established procedures, policies and Best Management Practices, in particular when the proposed mine is in the immediate vicinity of sensitive, high value natural resources such as a trout stream and Federally protected National Scenic Riverway.”
May Town Board
“I carefully studied the Draft EIS and offered substantive suggestions and concerns. I read the Response to Comments with dismay and read the Final EIS with disbelief. The FEIS ignores or glosses over (concerns) expressed by me and by many others, including highly-qualified experts, regarding noise, traffic, erosion into the St. Croix River, and damage and pollution of adjacent wetlands, wells, and waterways. It fails to provide adequate technical analysis of these issues – particularly traffic and safety impacts, noise, property values, and ecological impacts (edge effects and set-backs). … Substantial and specific instructions direct Responsible Government Units to include discussion of the “no-build alternative” in every EIS (http://www.mnplan.state.mn.us/pdf/rulguid3.pdf). The Zavoral Mine EIS pays cut-and-paste lip service to this mandate. … This document is a disservice to the people of Scandia, its economic health, its visitors, and the land we cherish.”
Missy Bowen, Scandia
“The final EIS uses flawed rationale for determining the impact to local tourism.. … The Final EIS does not apply the appropriate noise standard to the Riverway. … The Final EIS should be revised to apply National Park Service noise standards and disclose the true level of noise impacts from the proposed mine. Without such full disclosure, the City of Scandia cannot make an environmentally informed decision on the permit request. … The Final EIS does not adequately consider cumulative impacts.”
Christopher Stein, Superintendent, St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, National Park Service
“The Minnesota Legislature decreed that the purpose of preparing an EIS is to enrich the understanding of ecological systems and natural resources important to the state and to the nation. (Minn. Stat. 116K.01c) The Draft EIS, however, fails to fulfill this statutory mandate since it does not adequately analyze the impacts to the environmental ecology of the region and the impact to water resources.’ The Final EIS still fails to fulfill this mandate.”
Kristin Tuenge, Board member, Take Action-Conserve Our Scandia, citing May 18, 2012 comments to DEIS submitted by Kieran Dwyer, Associate, Dorsey and Whitney LLP.
“I am very disappointed and actually astounded by the lack of thoroughness and quite dismayed by the bias for Tiller Corporation shown by AECOM, which was to have been an impartial third party in this whole investigation. There are many areas which show a lack of rigorous scientific analysis that call into question the validity of the whole process.”
Leila Denecke, Scandia
What remains to be seen, which will be revealed on Tuesday evening, is the degree to which the Mayor, City Council, and city staff will give all substantive comments their due consideration. As residents of this community and citizens of this country, we are justified in expecting reasoned and reasonable responses, with rationale based in solid science and law. “Our” St. Croix River is a national park, no less than Yellowstone or Yosemite. Attend the meeting. Wear a blue shirt or hat to signify that you’ve come to bear witness for the river. Watch to see how—and if—our government works. Find out whether the Emperor is wearing any clothes.