Guest post: A gravel mine on the St. Croix River bluff at Scandia?

Laurie Allmann explains the potential environmental impacts of a proposed gravel mine at the intersection of Highways 97 and 95. Public comments are being accepted until May 18.

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Area neighboring the proposed Tiller-Zavoral gravel mine in Scandia.
Area neighboring the proposed mine (photo courtesy property-owner).

The issue of the proposed Tiller/Zavoral gravel mine has been grinding forward since 2008; so long that many area residents believe it to be already decided or inevitable. But the matter is very much alive and its outcome yet to be determined.

A Draft Environmental Impact Statement was released on February 28, initiating a public comment period that will end on May 18. A single public hearing was held April 3 at the Scandia Community Center.

Comments may be submitted to the City in writing at a.hurlburt@ci.scandia.mn.us. If you’d like to peruse the Draft EIS, you’ll find it posted on the City of Scandia’s website (see Tiller/Zavoral Mining and Reclamation Project). It’s also available in hard copy form for review at City Offices.

64 Acres, 1.2 Million Tons, Up to 10 Years

Area neighboring the proposed Tiller-Zavoral gravel mine in Scandia.
Area neighboring the proposed mine (photo courtesy property-owner).

This proposed 64-acre gravel mine would be located on the St. Croix River bluff at the intersection of Highway 97 and Scenic Highway 95 (map), just 1.3 miles north of William O’Brien State Park. Under various scenarios being considered, it would operate for as little as three years and up to ten years (a “subalternative” 150 working day option has also been floated).

Ironically, the City of Scandia’s current approved Comprehensive Plan does not allow mining in this environmentally-sensitive location. Nevertheless, Scandia’s Mayor and City Council have thus far upheld Tiller/Zavoral’s contention that the project should be considered under the rules of the now-outdated plan in effect at the time of their initial application.

Wrong Time to Blink

The City’s requirement that an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) be undertaken for this project was a prudent move. The information it provides should inform the City’s decision on whether or not to grant a conditional use permit for the mine, based on a better understanding of likely impacts to the broader community in such areas as public safety, natural resources, quality of life for residents, and economic vitality. Unfortunately, neither the staggering cost of EIS preparation (most of which is borne by the applicant) nor the months or even years to prepare, nor the size of the resulting document (this Draft EIS is 206 pages) is a guarantee of its worth.

At issue here and now is whether the Draft EIS accurately, adequately, and objectively conveys the potential impacts of the mine on the surrounding community. For example:

  • Has it fully investigated the direct, indirect and cumulative effects on Federally endangered mussels in the river, nesting and migrating birds, the brook trout stream located on the property, and other habitat for wildlife?
  • Does it truly capture the impacts on the recreational experience of those fishing or canoeing this reach of the St. Croix Scenic Riverway (a National Park)?
  • Has it adequately assessed the risk to drivers on the Scenic Highway who will encounter up to 736 hauling trucks in a given day at this intersection?
  • Does it fully address the ramifications of the site’s early mining history, associated with a well-documented major blow-out of sediment into the river?

Reviewers of the Draft EIS are raising substantive doubts. Many of these same concerns were initially expressed during the document’s preparation, when preliminary reports were issued. Intrepid souls willing to dive into the voluminous public record on the City’s project webpage will discover numerous challenges.

Concerns include matters such as the short duration of the pump test used to assess groundwater impacts; the limited scope of information on wildlife and natural features; the use of out-dated and incomparable “comps” in assessing impacts on surrounding property values; the failure to identify an alternative site for the mine (or to provide a concise explanation why not, as required by law); the inadequate assessment of noise impacts; water contamination concerns related to a possible 1000 gallon fuel tank stored on site (after earlier assurances of “no on-site fuel storage”), and removal of 5.4 acres of mature white pine-hardwood and maple-basswood forest. These are just the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

More subtle but far from objective is language throughout the Draft EIS that “plays up” the value of eventual reclamation while downplaying the value of community benefits that would be preserved by not mining the site. The so-called “no build” alternative gets short shrift in the DEIS, despite the fact that the public record is brimming with citizen input on the site’s existing values. Letters submitted to the City describe the importance of the site in relation to the community’s rural character, the peace and tranquility enjoyed on nearby trails and on the river, the high quality of drinking water drawn from local wells and spring boxes, the biodiversity of native plants and wildlife on adjacent lands, and the scenic qualities of a natural environment that inspires residents and visitors alike. The impact of the proposed gravel mining operation cannot be fully appreciated without such context.

Outstanding natural features and a National Park

Area neighboring the proposed Tiller-Zavoral gravel mine in Scandia.
Area neighboring the proposed mine (photo courtesy property-owner).

What is not in question among those familiar with this area is the exceptional quality of the natural features on Zavoral’s land and on properties bordering the proposed mine. The area is designated by Audubon as part of the St. Croix Bluffs Important Bird Area, and is designated by the DNR as a Regionally Significant Ecological Area.

Immediately below the proposed mine, along the river, is the Rustrum State Wildlife Management Area. The private lands on neighboring properties (though not open to the public) are host to a myriad of seeps and springs emerging from steep slopes and rock faces; even a dramatic water-whittled, time-carved gorge that channels the cold waters of a trout stream. This stream, Crystal Spring Creek (also known as Zavoral’s Creek), has a healthy, reproducing population of brook trout, and is currently under consideration by the DNR for state designation.

Along most of its perimeter, the mine would abut land held in scenic easements by the St. Croix Scenic Riverway: the National Park we are privileged to enjoy and serve as citizen stewards. It is, without doubt, one of the most lovely, most vulnerable places along the St. Croix: a place characterized by the sounds of bird song, wind moving through the needles of towering white pines, and the trickle of spring water bound for the river.

As currently proposed, the Tiller-Zavoral mine would pull 1.2 million tons of material from the site, excavating to a depth ranging from 10 to 70 feet.

Honestly, this had better be one heck of an Environmental Impact Statement. Let’s help to make it a good one. Read. Listen. Comment. Help rally the expertise, the political will, the community support, the facts.

Find out more:

“Sustaining the values of the St. Croix will require that each generation make a renewed commitment to the cause. We will need to be most vigilant on the local level, making land-use decisions carefully and responding to threats to the riverway as they arise.”

– Former Vice President Walter Mondale, co-author of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, (in) “Watch This Wild River,” Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine, July-Aug, 2006.

 Map of proposed mine site


Comments

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15 responses to “Guest post: A gravel mine on the St. Croix River bluff at Scandia?”

  1. kirk mccall Avatar
    kirk mccall

    NO NO NO NO NO NO NO! STOP THIS MADNESS!

  2. Jane Hudalla Avatar
    Jane Hudalla

    I hope this mine is squashed for good! Damned greedy vipers!!!

  3. Susan Avatar
    Susan

    Noooo!!!

  4. Jim Avatar
    Jim

    As a person who has lived on on both sides of the river and still enjoys the area of Scandia and MOTSC I can’t see where the addition of a gravel pit will do anything to help keep the area serene, natural and a wonderful spot to visit. Hopefully the EIS study will show that such a enterprise will cause damage to the area and it’s fragile environmental status to justify saying “No” to this type of land useage!

  5. Robbo Avatar
    Robbo

    Who is going to be the first person do die in a traffic accident at the intersection of 97 & 95 with 60-90 loaded trucks a day? People traveling south on 95 approach this intersection from around a corner and a van loaded with kids coming around that corner at full speed to find a fully loaded dump truck pulling out of the driveway of the pit into the intersection will have no chance.

  6. Adrianne Avatar
    Adrianne

    How awful. No!

  7. Carol Pierce Avatar
    Carol Pierce

    Scandia is foolish to not recognize that a small portion of it’s Eastern border is on a beautiful scenic river waterway. It’s an asset, many communities would die for. Where are the stewards who will ensure that there will be something for future generations to enjoy, besides a big hole-scar in the ground? If people don’t grow up loving nature, they certainly won’t want to protect it. Are the Scandia decision-makers visionaries, nature lovers or nature haters?
    I’m aware there are rare orchids, trout lilies, and other lovely and at-risk species… How does one convey this to money and greed-mongers?
    Has anyone considered the overlooked-fact that the scenic Hwy 95 and also Hwy 97, everyone’s well-trodden-artery to Forest Lake will be significantly slowed down and burdened by many, very-huge sand trucks?…(Not to mention shortening the life and quality of the highways, themselves)? Perhaps driver won’t mind eating the dust and suffering the delays.
    It would be a sad, sad commentary for this sand mining to ever be approved. A giant step backward for the memory of all the hard-working, beloved-immigrants who loved every inch of land in Scandia.
    Where’s the wisdom?

  8. Linda Avatar
    Linda

    No!

  9. Verna Pitts Avatar
    Verna Pitts

    Please do NOT. NO NO NO

  10. Juli Hagstrom Avatar
    Juli Hagstrom

    Please protect this beautiful and sensitive river bank. Long-range vision not short range profits. The damage done by this mining project will never be undone.

  11. Irving Geary Avatar
    Irving Geary

    Scandia would not approve our church being built in its community. It would not approve a barn for a vineyard in the county side. Now they say they will allow someone to destroy something that took 10 million years create. This is all wrong. Do not degrade the St. Croix bluffland.

  12. Nanc MacLeslie Avatar
    Nanc MacLeslie

    Please add my name to those who wish to protect the environment from this!!

  13. Dave Avatar
    Dave

    Living almost opposite the entrance to this venture, my questions to those responsible for the environmental impact survey were;

    • Air Pollution; Can you show us your atmospheric pollution data/calculations (C0) based on the volume of heavy traffic this business will create, taking into account the full throttle 1.5 mile climb on Hwy 97 from Hwy 95 to Scandia town cross roads.
    My calculations based on 50 Fully laden dump trucks/day @ approx, 1.5 miles/gallon = 500 gallons/day on this stretch alone. Impact to Human and Wild life

    • Traffic congestion; Have you surveyed the existing heavy traffic volume in this area to calculate a total volume of traffic. Inconvenience and Safety concerns. What data can you show.

    • Air Pollution; What is the calculated C0 emission from the mining equipment and how is this pollution to be dispersed into the surrounding area. Impact to Human and Wild life.

    • Noise Pollution; What data do you have for the resultant Decibel output taking into account the full throttle climb requirement going East. What data for the deceleration of the heavy vehicles coming West down the hill, including Engine Braking noise.

    • Noise Pollution; What is the estimated Decibel output expected from daily equipment operation in the mine and surrounding area.

    • Noise Pollution: What equipment is required to run 24/7 in the mine during operations and what air and noise pollution data can you show.

    • River Pollution; What steps will be taken to prevent silica wash and other sediment being discharged or leaching into the St Croix River. Impact to Human and Wild life

    • Aquifer Pollution; What steps will be taken to prevent silica wash and other sediment leaching into the well water in the area. Impact to Human and Wild life

    Information References;

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_monoxide

    http://pollutionarticles.blogspot.com/2011/01/noise-pollution-facts.html;

    I never received a response!!!!!

  14. Carol Pierce Avatar
    Carol Pierce

    Would everyone who cares, please seek out and read this week’s Country Messenger, cover story on Tiller’s silica spillage and contamination in the St.Croix River in Grantsburg?

    This is the same Tiller that would be manning the sand-mine in Scandia.

    People. This is not a time for complacency!

  15. […] draft Environmental Impact Statement was released in April, local writer Laurie Allman published an in-depth article about it on St. Croix 360. She listed many concerns about the proposal and the adequacy of the environmental review, and then […]

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Guest post: A gravel mine on the St. Croix River bluff at Scandia?