Scandia residents, experts question Zavoral Mine EIS

During planning commission public hearing on April 3 

Mary Bailey
Scandia Reporter

Is the Zavoral Mine environmental impact statement good enough?

About 100 people came to the Tuesday, April 3 Scandia Planning Commission meeting to address this question. The hearing was part of the EIS process on the proposed reopening of the sand and gravel mine near the St. Croix River, east of the Highway 95/97 intersection.

Of the 14 people who spoke, only one judged the document to be adequate.  Larkin Hoffman attorney Greg Korstad, who works for Tiller Corporation, said the Zavoral site is “probably the most well-studied gravel pit in Minnesota.”  He said the document was responsive to comments raised by the public and by government officials.

Three experts speaking for the local group Take Action—Conserve Our Scandia, which opposes the mine, all said the draft EIS was incomplete, was inaccurate, or drew unsubstantiated conclusions.

Scott Alexander, groundwater hydrologist for the University of Minnesota Department of Earth Sciences, said if the mine is reopened there will be measurable impacts to groundwater and to streams, due to changes in land surface.

“They gloss over a lot of the groundwater issues and say there won’t be significant impact. There will be measurable impact,” he said.

The Zavoral Creek area on the north is very steep and has several springs, with a flow rate of 120 gallons per minute, Alexander said. The south creek flows at 10 gallons per minute, and the middle at 40 gallons per minute.

At the surface, Alexander said, there is a 50-degree temperature swing from summer to winter, peaking in July. Air temperature changes are reproduced below the surface, he explained, but “damped down and shifted in time.”

Water temperature would increase with mining, he said, but this could be reduced if the area is reclaimed well. “Fully reclaimed, a lot could be sent back by plant transpiration,” he said. “Transpiration redirects water back to the atmosphere.”

Kim Chapman, principal ecologist at Applied Environmental Services, also was brought in by TACOS.

Chapman said the EIS lacks discussion of regional effects. “There is no buffer to the national park service easement,” he said. If the mine is approved, he said, the plan should allow sufficient buffer on the east and south to protect forest and public investment.

According to Chapman, the statement lacks specific information on the size and density of trees planted and fails to address other problems, including honeysuckle/buckthorn invasion and deer browsing on white pine.

During mining, he said, songbird density will be lower, and the number of predators, such as cats and raccoons, will increase.

Because Zavoral Creek is only one to two inches deep, Chapman said it will be challenged to absorb pollution such as sediment. Brook trout are difficult to keep in agricultural regions, he said, and two silt fences would be insufficient for large storms.

Chapman also criticized the EIS for not investigating alternate sites. A 1997 Metropolitan Council study of gravel resources showed “quite a number of deposits away from the river,” he said. “What has happened since 1997?” he asked.

Vernon Swing, principal traffic engineer at RLK in Minnetonka, was asked by TACOS to review the traffic question. He concluded that the EIS is incomplete.

Swing said the EIS annual average daily traffic numbers have no turning movement counts, no seasonal adjustments are given, and there is no capacity analysis. No intersection or driveway analysis was done, and the safety analysis is incomplete. There are no sight distance measurements, he said, and crash data are inadequate.

In comparing the traffic between the build and no-build options, Swing said, the EIS fails to recognize that the current route for bringing Class C aggregate from Franconia has trucks traveling south on 95 and turning west (right) on 97.  Opening the Zavoral mine would lead to shorter trips, but the trucks would be crossing 95. The number of potential conflict points would increase from two to six, he said.

Bill Clapp, speaking for the St. Croix River Association, said it would be a shame to sacrifice the handsome stand of trees in the nine acres previously not mined.  The EIS statement that this area has been modified, he said, refers to the presence of earthworms.

After mining is complete, Clapp said, the reclaimed site will be a very deep hole covered mostly with grass. “Think how long it will take for trees planted in the pit bottom to reach the top,” he said.

Clapp argued that Tiller has no immediate need for the gravel, and if the Zavoral mine is not reopened, Tiller will continue hauling from the Franconia mine. “Nothing in the EIS says there is a need for gravel,” Clapp said.

“This baby abuts a national park, and you gotta be doggone careful doing something this drastic right next to a national park,” Clapp concluded.

Residents Speak

Resident Lisa Philippi addressed the EIS statement that home market values would decline 2 to 5 percent within a quarter mile of the mine. Instead of using data from 2006 and 2007, she said, the market analysis should have used current comparables.

Only 22 properties were included in the sample, she said, and they were located in high-density areas in Rosemont and Andover, which are not like Scandia.

Philippi said using a better model with larger samples, the property value reduction would be 25 percent within a quarter mile and 5 percent within three miles.

Resident Lisa Schlingerman read from several documents to give a history of mining at the Zavoral site. A major incident in 1971 led to massive amounts of sediment being washed down into the St. Croix River, where the sand can still be seen, she said. She read of wells not being sealed and restoration not being done.

Resident Kristin Tuenge objected to statements that the site will be better after reclamation. There is “no substantiation that a 55-feet deep hole, and a loss of 18 acres of woodland—some 40 years old—will be better,” she said.

Tuenge said calcium chloride should not be used for dust control at the mine, as it is readily absorbed into water and will seep into the three streams. Chloride is toxic to trout and hazardous to the growth of many plants, including pine trees, she said. Herbicides should not be used in the area, she added.

She said there was no effective suppression of small particles, which cause or increase lung disease. On this topic she was joined by resident Jenna Anderson, who said she had not heard the questions of dust and silicone addressed adequately.

Resident Randy Ferrin, formerly an ecologist and hydrologist with the U.S. Forest Service, agreed with other speakers that truck traffic was not adequately evaluated and that home value estimates did not reflect current market conditions. He said the draft EIS is “severely flawed and needs to be redone.”

Resident Gregory Page said he remembers when the Zavoral Mine was in operation. “It wasn’t pretty,” he said. Page said the EIS scope was not full and rich enough in issues such as geographic range and ground water.

James Wilcox Dimmers, who lives in Osceola, WI, said he’s been to other reclaimed mines and was not impressed. “I’ve looked at their other gravel pits. I don’t think they’re very attractive,” he said. “Can they show us a picture, please?  Maybe that would help.”

Resident Pam Smith said the issue of sound levels was not adequately addressed. Smith suggested this might be the ideal time for significant berming along the highway.

Resident Jean Houlding asked for more information about a possible major storm event that is mentioned in the EIS.

Resident Pam Arnold wondered what the site would be good for after the mining process is completed. “A Metropolitan Council representative at a previous meeting said when this operation is done, the site will not be adequate for agriculture, nor will it be easy to develop,” she said.

The planning commission asked for clarification from two speakers, but no responses were given to any speaker. Later the city will respond to all comments, including any submitted during the comment period which ends at 4 p.m. on Friday, May 18.