Scandia council candidates talk mine at Oct. 18 forum
About 70 people came to the Scandia community center Oct. 18 to hear what the city council candidates had to say.
The Zavoral Mine continues to be a key topic for the city. With the Environmental Impact Studyrecently finalized, the next council will address the mine’s request for a conditional use permit to operate. The forum was sponsored by Take Action–Conserve Our Scandia (TACOS), a local group opposed to the mine.
The proposed mine is located near the St. Croix River, east of St. Croix Trail (TH-95), where it meets Scandia Trail (TH-97).
The mine was a main topic, but by no means the only one.
Challengers Bob and Dustin Hegland advocated smaller government and lower taxes.
Incumbent Chris Ness detailed current initiatives to cut costs and preserve the city’s rural character.
Dan Lee risked talking about cooperating with Tiller Corporation, even though public sentiment is largely opposed to the mine.
Incumbent Connie Amos did not attend due to an illness in her family.
Moderator was Scandia resident Tom Triplett.
Dustin Hegland lives on Pomroy Avenue and works as a consultant in the information management field. “I love Scandia,” he said. “I want to keep it the way it is.” He said he would keep taxes down and pay down the city’s debt.
Chris Ness, of Norell Avenue, said he’d like to “continue what we’re doing” and cited as good moves the city’s two recent hires, administrator Kristina Handt and public works superintendent Tim Kieffer.
Ness said government’s job is to take care of infrastructure (roads and sewers) and otherwise stay out of people’s way. He believes Scandia residents are truly blessed, and his goal is for people to still be able to say that in the future.
Dan Lee lives on Olinda Trail and is on the Park and Recreation Committee. He sees the trail system as a great way to promote the city, and also stressed infrastructure. He offers a willingness to do research and “add some wisdom” as the city inevitably grows.
Bob Hegland lives on Bone Lake “to attract the grandchildren.” An electrical engineer and former 3M employee, he said he spent most of his career in corporate management, public and private. He has managed budgets and said his goal is to protect people from tax increases. “A lot of things can be done more efficiently,” he said. “I want a city that functions extremely well, that controls its budgets.”
Triplett asked each candidate whether he agrees with the following goal from the 2030 comprehensive plan:
“Maintain the City’s unique rural and small-town character and natural landscape while ac-commodating a reasonable amount of new development that contributes to, rather than detracts from, that character.”
Lee agreed: “It’s one of the reasons we moved here.” He expressed confidence that Scandia can protect its scenic views and historical significance, stay rural and grow at the same time. “I think we’re up to it,” he said.
Bob Hegland responded that he advocates smaller government. With difficult times coming, he said, the city must “constantly re-evaluate decisions that were made.” He said he agrees in general but is reluctant to get into areas already covered by other units of government.
Dustin Hegland agreed. “I spend my weekends on the river. I like the rural feel, seeing farms and cows.” He said he is concerned by the proposed mine reopening and the effect it would have on wildlife, pollution, traffic, roads and windshields.
Ness said, “I absolutely agree with the statement, 100 percent. The threat is unchecked development,” he said, and cited new ordinances that reward developers for setting aside open space and protecting views.
Ness said he worries about the proposed gravel mine, with its traffic and noise.
Speaking for TACOS, Kristin Tuenge asked, “If elected, what factors will you consider in deciding whether to grant a conditional use permit for the mine?”
Dustin Hegland said he would look at the city’s costs; the issues of traffic, pollution, and wildlife; and how the mine would change the community.
Ness said because gravel trucks already use the roads, MNDOT concluded that no change would be needed. “But it’s a completely different pattern,” Ness argued, with people turning left against trucks that have the right-of-way.
He worries there might be a blow-out like the one that happened in the 1970s, causing severe damage. Noise levels and dust control also made his list.
“I have voted twice that the EIS is not adequate,” Ness said.
Bob Hegland said “Long-term, it will destroy roads. Unless it brings major income to city, I’d be against it.”
Lee said he has read the EIS, visited the site, and called other cities about the legal right to mine. After talking to people in Winona, Two Harbors, Eveleth and Virginia, he concluded that the city must compromise.
“When you go for a zero-sum game, you lose,” Lee said, because if the city votes no, the mine may still legally open.
Lee said Tiller has shown willingness to cooperate with the city, especially by removing washing and crushing from their plans. “If we go zero-sum, we’re in more trouble than if we compromise,” Lee said. He said the city must look objectively at both sides, considering all facts and legal ramifications.
One question was about Lilleskogen Park, which the city may develop in the future: Why improve this park when we have William O’Brien, Big Marine, Square Lake, Hay Lake, and Gammelgarden?
Lee, who serves on the Park and Recreation subcommittee for Lilleskogen, said the park has great potential.
Beginning with restoring the trails, he said, the city should “nudge this park into a more usable space. We don’t have the money to develop now, but it could be a great place for Scandia.”
Bob Hegland said the site is not the best place for a park and suggested the land could be developed. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense,” he said.
Dustin Hegland said, “I’d love another park. But when we’re turning roads to dirt because we can’t afford to fix them, another park is a crazy idea.”
Chris Ness agreed it would be unwise to spend general fund money on this. “Dumping money into it now is not the way to go,” he said.
Ness said Lilleskogen would be totally different from nearby parks and, unlike county and state parks, would not require an entrance fee.
Rita Erickson asked the candidates to what degree do they consider themselves to be environmentalists.
Ness labeled himself extremely green. “I’ve been on the Carnelian/Marine Watershed District citizens’ advisory committee, putting in rain gardens.”
Lee said his family carefully manages livestock manure to keep it out of Hay Lake, and they have a wind generator.
Dustin Hegland said some environmental projects are “a waste of time. Plans that sound good are really just a way to put money in somebody’s pocket.”
Bob Hegland said, “I’m more of a common-sense person.” Hegland said common sense is needed when the environmental side gets out of control: “The environment cannot be your only concern.”
A decision was made years ago to pave every road in Scandia. The city must decide whether to pave the few that are still gravel. Greg Zauner questioned the wisdom of this, saying “They’re not maintaining the ones they have.”
Lee said the city will not go back to gravel roads. “For our town to grow, for the fire department to work, we need good roads,” he said, and “it is the city’s responsibility to maintain them.”
Failing to care for the roads now leads to larger expense later, he said, and noted that gravel roads also need maintenance. “We need a plan that works financially,” he said.
Bob Hegland agreed that roads must be better maintained. It’s like a car, he said: “If you want to run a car a few more years, you put more money into maintenance.”
Dustin Hegland said, “It’s not sensible to pave more roads. It will hurt maintaining the ones you already have.”
Ness said, “The people who live on the roads should have a say,” and gave as an example Melanie Trail, whose residents met and filled out a questionnaire.
Then a city crew successfully restored the road at a relatively low price. Ness said the city will do more in-house road projects, getting better value.
Ness added that 237th Street, the road converted to gravel, has been repaved. But in general, he agreed that road repair is falling behind.
Gregory Page asked how candidates would reduce spending.
Bob Hegland said he was rankled by the $15,000 cost listed for a pressure washer. “On some of these items,” he said, “there’s a tendency to go overboard.”
Hegland also criticized the thought process used when the city bought a $300,000 fire truck, partly because the old one needed frequent maintenance, then hired a new maintenance person. “This is not long-term thinking,” he said. “There’s a lot of fat that can be removed.”
Dustin Hegland said the city must resist replacing items just because they have reached a certain age, and cited the fire department HVAC as an example.
Ness defended the fire truck purchase. The old truck was 25 years old, he said. “If my house is on fire, I don’t want the truck breaking down on the way.”
Fire insurance prices depend on the fire department rating, he added. A change in service for 240th Street caused homeowners’ insurance bills to spike.
It’s also a safety issue, Ness said. “We just had a worker get injured because a truck was not safe.” Most of the equipment in Scandia is used well beyond the recommended lifespan, he said.
Ness mentioned the recent combining of two part-time jobs as evidence the city is working to lower costs. “We are keeping our eyes open,” he concluded.
District Court Judge Susan Miles asked about the two family members running for the same office. “Are you running with each other, against each other, or is it just a coincidence?” she asked.
Dustin (the son) said the move was planned; they are running for the two open spots to try to keep taxes down. “We think alike and get along great,” he said.
Bob (the father) assured the audience that the two would not “vote in lockstep.” They have different backgrounds and differ on some issues, he said.
New revenue sources
Lisa Schlingermann and Sally Swanson brought up increasing revenue. “Do you have creative ideas for bringing new money into the city?” Schlingermann asked.
Lee would actively court businesses, offering incentives. “The city and mayor are pivotal” to creating an inviting business climate, he said.
Bob Hegland said “the greatest impediment of business development is government regulation.” Instead of throwing up roadblocks that cost money, the city should mitigate the risk that business owners face. Dustin Hegland agreed.
Ness said the industrial park is almost full and the city may have to buy land. He also said business is not overregulated. “It’s a pretty straightforward process,” to start a business in Scandia, he said.
Former planning commission member Sue Rodsjo asked the candidates whether they support government regulation intended to keep Scandia a place with beauty and historical significance. Rodsjo led the team responsible for the city’s architectural design guidelines, which have been applied in three renovation projects.
All agreed the city should maintain its architectural flavor, provided it’s not too expensive for businesses.
Ness cited the remodeled bank building as “a night-and-day difference.”
Lee said architectural integrity is important. “We have a responsibility to Scandia for its historical significance.”
But a business owner who fixed up a run-down building according to the guidelines saw his property taxes increase sizably, Lee said, suggesting the city consider a gradually increasing tax.