A visit with Mike Caron

In a phone conversation on Dec. 14, Mike Caron, director of land use affairs for Tiller Corporation, answered a few questions about the Zavoral Mine. The following is a synopsis of the interview.

Q: What is your job?

A: I’m in charge of all of the land use and other regulatory permits: sand and gravel, asphalt plants, industrial sand facilities (silica sand mining).

Mike Caron leads a tour of the Zavoral site on Sept. 30, 2009.

Mike Caron leads a tour of the Zavoral site on Sept. 30, 2009.

Q: How many Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) for mines have you experienced? How is Scandia’s different?

A: We did an EIS for Empire Township and Elk River, and we’ve done several EAWs. It’s not unusual for an EIS to run this long. But it is not typical to have an EIS ordered for a mine this size. An EIS is mandatory for any operation over 160 acres and mean depth of 10 feet. After the Zavoral EAW was complete, the city could have supplemented the EAW or ordered an EIS. Scandia chose the EIS.

It’s not uncommon to have a lot of community passion against sand and gravel mines and asphalt plants, but this is the most we’ve ever encountered.

Q: At these meetings you have to answer difficult questions, yet you don’t get emotional. Are you by nature slow to anger?

A: It’s something I’ve had to learn. It’s not uncommon for people to first attack the project, and then, when they realize it’s not as harmful as they thought, their only option is to attack the proposer.

Q: Why do you stick with it? Why is this mine worth the time and expense?

A: It’s one of the last resources in that area that can be mined. And it needs to have reclamation; the owner wants the site reclaimed. Tiller is interested in the reserve. It’s good-quality reserve. We feel it should be mined for the benefit of the entire region.

Q: How do you respond to John Lindell’s criticism of operations at the Scandia Mine? [Lindell lives on 218th Street near Tiller Plant No. 907, 22303 Manning Trail. At the planning commission meeting on Dec. 12, he said, among other criticisms, that operating hours have been violated.]

A: There was an incident. Our plant operator, who had been there a long time, retired. The new plant operator was doing plant calibration beyond the hours of operation. In calibration, we load material into the hoppers, where it’s metered at the bottom and a computer adjusts the openings. For asphalt, we need the right amount of material coming out. A loader and conveyor were operating.

Lindell contacted the city. I said it would stop, but the plant operator did it a second time. We put him in a position where he wouldn’t have to make those decisions.

Q: What assurance can you offer that the Zavoral mine, if approved, will not have these incidents?

A: If the Zavoral permit is issued, that mine will be under a microscope. All of our people are very aware of that.

Some sand and gravel extracted when the Zavoral mine was active in the past is ready to be hauled away. A site tour was held on Sept. 30, 2009.

Some sand and gravel extracted when the Zavoral mine was active in the past is ready to be hauled away. A site tour was held on Sept. 30, 2009.

Q: What would be the end use of sand and gravel taken from the Zavoral mine?

A: The end use would be hot mix asphalt, which is what the majority of roads are made of. Over the past two decades, the required formula for hot mix asphalt has become much more complex. Specific gradations of sand and gravel are blended together for longer-lasting roads. [Tiller Plant No. 907 in Scandia sells asphalt.]

The Zavoral sand would also be used for concrete mix. Typically the product is marketed within about a 15-mile radius, because of trucking costs. We sell to our customers who have concrete plants.

Q: What about the blowout that happened years ago, when the Zavoral mine released sand into the St. Croix River?

A: I’m not familiar with the blowout that happened in the ‘60s or ‘70s. We’re not going to be washing, so there will be no discharge from a wash plant. The EIS concluded it would take in excess of 11.5 inches of rain for any storm water to leave the site. The possibilities of a blowout are pretty remote.

Q: What recourse do you have if the city decides against the mine reopening? Has Tiller ever sued a city or county?

A: The city has to come up with findings, favorable or unfavorable. I would need to see the findings to know what our response would be. Yes, we have sued, in Elk River. A company was trying to expand a landfill onto our land. Both companies sued the city. A settlement was reached that allowed the landfill to take place.

The bike path, which begins at the mine entrance and heads south toward William O’Brien State Park, needs repair.

The bike path, which begins at the mine entrance and heads south toward William O’Brien State Park, needs repair.

Q: Timing has been an issue, with Tiller applying for a permit just before the new comprehensive plan was adopted. At the Dec. 4 meeting, your engineer said there’s more to the story.

A: This is not about Tiller trying to beat the clock. We talked to the planning commission in 2002, when Scandia was still a township, and moved forward as quickly as we could once the mining ordinance was adopted. During that whole process we were asking questions, trying to modify our proposal.

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