Speaking up for the St. Croix


Four reports on last week’s meeting about the gravel mine proposal in Scandia

The room was packed and many testified about the controversial proposal. A second meeting will be held Wednesday, December 12.

Scandia city logo

Last Tuesday, the first of two meetings of the Scandia Planning Commission on Tiller Mining Company’s request for a Conditional Use Permit to operate a mine near the river bluffs at the intersection of Highways 95 and 97 was held, featuring testimony by the company, the National Park Service, anti-mining organizations, and concerned citizens.

The second hearing will be held Wednesday, December 12 at 7 p.m. at the Scandia community center.

Below are reports from two newspapers and two involved citizens about last week’s meeting.

Mary Divine in the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

A decision about reopening a sand and gravel pit near the St. Croix River in Scandia won’t be made until February, but the debate is heating up.

A public hearing on Tiller Corp.’s proposal to reopen a pit just east of Minnesota 95 and Minnesota 97 — a site that has not been mined since the 1980s — will continue at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 12, at the Scandia Community Center.

About 150 people packed the center earlier this week to attend the first part of the hearing befo
re the planning commission.

Tiller Corp., which is based in Maple Grove, is seeking a permit that would allow it to extract sand and gravel and reclaim 64 acres of the 114-acre site, which is owned by Jim Zavoral. Nine of the 64 acres have never been mined.

The planning commission is expected to decide Jan. 2 what it will recommend to the city council. The council is expected to discuss the proposal Jan. 15 and vote Feb. 19.

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Local writer and activist Laurie Allman, who has published posts on St. Croix 360 previously about the mine, reported the meeting only increased her skepticism:

“One would think that, after all the meetings, reports and testimony that this issue has generated over the past four years, there would be nothing more to learn, no more surprises. Wrong. On the December 4 public hearing with the planning commission, during the applicant’s report, we hear a Tiller rep state that the proposed mine would meet the standards of the city’s current comp plan, with rezoning. Is Tiller Corp actually suggesting that the city of Scandia rezone to accommodate this mine, changing its current comp plan and thus opening the door to expanded future mining along the river bluff? Maybe, maybe not. But it matters that we find out. We also hear the City Planner’s unequivocal support for approval of the Conditional Use Permit (hardly a surprise, since she has exhibited a “green light” stance on the proposal from the start). But among the conditions she proposes is that there be a minimum separation of 10 feet between the bottom of the excavation and groundwater. Yes, we all realize that the usual standard applied is a 3 foot separation. But both 3 feet and 10 feet are contrary to the 25-30 foot separation that all the natural resource agencies used in their assessment of potential impacts to the nearby trout stream, and was a strong part of the “no significant impact” finding of the EIS. Will these agencies be allowed to revise their impact assessments based on the new information? Maybe, maybe not. But it matters that we find out. At the hearing, we hear RLK traffic engineer Vern Swing explain the engineering standards that support a finding of dramatically increased risk to public safety associated with the proposed configuration of the intersection with the mine access road. He provides a handout to the planning commission and City Planner. We see the City Planner look at the handout and laugh. Will the planning commission and city council go beyond the assurances of the Planner and require a serious investigation of these issues? Maybe, maybe not. But it matters that we find out. During public testimony at the hearing, we hear a woman whose property is near the proposed mine. She suffers from the respiratory illness COPD, and fears the impact of airborne dust from the mine. In setting its standard for “significant” impacts from the proposed mine, will the City consider the documented health issues of individual residents known to be highly vulnerable? Maybe, maybe not. But it matters that we find out. The prevailing hope is this: that the planning commission and the city look anew at the accumulated factual evidence (including the Draft EIS and Final EIS comments in the public record from credentialed experts), and form their own conclusions as to how those facts relate to the city code, ordinances, and the comp plan being applied to this application.”

Here is the quote Allmann referenced from Principal Traffic Engineer Vernon Swing of RLK Inc, from the letter he sent to Christine-Maefsky, Planning Commission Chair, dated November 17, 2012.

“The construction of a site access at the TH95/TH97 intersection creates a significant threat to traffic safety by increasing the potential for severe or fatal accidents by over 350%. Even if Tiller constructs a site access offset from the TH95/TH97 intersection in accordance with MnDOT guidance, the risk of severe or fatal accidents will still increase by 100%.”

Randy Ferrin, one of several members of the St. Croix River Association’s board of directors, said the community room was almost packed to capacity, estimating more than 120 people were there.

“Scandia’s City Planner made it sound like the project was a shoe-in for the CUP. TA-COS reps did a great job presenting facts and reasons/tools to deny the CUP. Chris Stein gave a powerful presentation primarily on national park noise standards. Bill Neuman did a nice job pointing out the decision needs to be based on facts, not economics of the landowner, and not on emotions. Greg Page, neighbor to the north of the mine gave a very nice presentation on the potential SNA value of his land and the need for the Planning Commission to sort out the facts and make the right decision on their own. Tom Triplett spoke for the Friends of Scandia Parks and Trails and requested denial of the CUP. He also spoke about his tenure as the Chair of the EQB and how most of the mining violations that came before them were related to lack of follow through on mine reclamation.”

Ferrin added that several members of the River Associaton’s Board were there to present testimony but deferred to the next meeting of the Planning Commission on December 12 to present their statements.

Philip Bock, in the Country Messenger:

Scandia resident Lisa Schlingerman read several documents into the record, noting a history of  inadequate reclamation at the site.

“We might not be here tonight if Washington County was a responsible governmental unit,” Schlingerman said. “In 1993, the compliance inspection report showed insurance was inadequate, the bond expired, the status of restoration: not restored and the well not sealed.”

Five years later, Schlingerman noted that the county claimed the site had been “naturally reclaimed” and no further reclamation would be needed at that time.

Another resident noted the possibility that a gravel slide at the previous mine changed the face of the river.

“There’s a gravel bar in the river now that did not used to exist,” Scandia resident Barb Staub said. “I’m sure it was not the idea of the gravel mine at the time to have some of their gravel end up in the river.”

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Conservation news on St. Croix 360 is supported by the St. Croix River Association, which works to protect, restore and celebrate the St. Croix River and its watershed.

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