Scandia council rejects planning commission recommendations
The Scandia council began its work on the Zavoral Mine permit application Tuesday, Jan. 15 by voting unanimously to use the 2020 comprehensive plan, which was in place when the mine application was first submitted in 2008.
Choosing the 2030 plan would have meant denial of the permit, because that plan does not allow mining at that site. The mine is located on the east side of Scandia, near the St. Croix River.
Last week the planning commission recommended that the city apply the 2030 plan, which has been in place since 2009.
During the years spent in environmental review of the proposed mine, former city attorney David Hebert advised the council on several occasions that the application must be considered using rules in place at the time it was submitted.
At the Jan. 15 meeting, council member Jim Schneider said the council must “stick with what we told the applicants. I’m in total agreement with using the 2020 plan.”
Member Sally Swanson agreed. “I looked at the law,” she said, “and I believe it’s 2020.”
The planning commission had also recommended that the council deny the permit to reopen the mine and presented 11 pages of findings to support that conclusion.
Without mentioning those findings, the council went straight to the city planner’s document outlining the project. Planner Sherri Buss of TKDA explained point by point how the proposal meets the requirements of the city’s mining ordinance and development code. Buss concluded that the mine will not have a negative effect on the comprehensive plan, will enhance the public welfare, will not endanger public health, and will not injure the enjoyment of property.
The document includes 91 conditions that the miner must follow if the permit is granted.
Council member Chris Ness voted no on the motion to accept the planner’s conclusion that the mine meets the requirements of the 2020 comprehensive plan. In a phone conversation after the meeting, Ness said he was not convinced the project would promote the general public welfare and create no safety issues.
The council will review the resolution, developer agreement, and annual operating permit at its Feb. 12 work session and take a final vote on Feb. 19.
If the mine is reopened, how long should it operate?
Tiller would like 10 years to finish extracting the sand and gravel, but said it could be done in three to five years without significantly changing the traffic burden, or in one to two years with heavier traffic.
Until this council meeting, all three durations were given equal consideration. At the Jan. 15 meeting Jim Schneider said a longer time might be better for the city. The minimum should be three to five years, he said. Most of the council agreed.
The council directed staff to prepare a resolution to approve the conditional use permit to allow the mine to operate for 3 to 5 years. Ness voted no, saying he preferred the shortest possible duration.
The conditions for mining will include the recommendation by University of Minnesota geologist Scott Alexander, submitted after the EIS was finalized, to require three monitoring wells. Tiller’s Mike Caron said one of the wells is already in.
A condition added by the planning commission to prohibit sand and gravel trucks from turning left onto TH-97 from Lofton Avenue was deleted. Tiller objected because using Manning Trail instead would have added two miles per trip.
Tiller also convinced the council to add permission for sand and gravel trucks to use not just state and county highways but also local roads, when delivering to a local project.
A proposal by Ness to ban fueling on the site was rejected, as council members thought the concrete pad required might be a good idea for containing any spills. (Caron said Tiller has no current plan to refuel on site.)
After the meeting, Planning Commission Chair Christine Maefsky expressed disappointment.
“I was disappointed they did not take more time going through our findings,” she said. “We had spent quite a bit of time on it and felt we had reasonable things that they should at least consider.”
“I don’t think it was an easy decision for anyone,” she added.