Hashing out the details in Scandia

The work session lasted from 6:30 to 11:30.

But a contingent of Scandia residents, who have attended many mine meetings in the last five years, continued their vigilance. Two dozen spectators sat for hours to hear the council deliberate.

Reopening the sand and gravel mine, located east of the intersection of TH-97 and TH-95 near the St. Croix River, has been opposed by residents, the St. Croix River Association, the National Park Service.

The city’s planning commission, after an extensive review, recommended denying the conditional use permit to operate the mine.

By the time this is published, the council will have voted. All signs point to approval.

The council began its deliberations on Jan. 15 by instructing City Administrator Kristina Handt and City Planner Sherri Buss to prepare a resolution approving the permit. They did not refer to the findings of the planning commission.

At the Feb. 13 work session, however, the council did address the planning commission report.

They also decided which of Tiller’s proposed changes to accept. They chose a duration of 3.3 years, rejected a proposal to close the mine during summers, and learned of a last-minute kink in the bike path plan. They heard Tiller’s proposal for reimbursing city costs.

Response to Planning Commission

The council began by responding to the Planning Commission’s list of code requirements not met by the mine proposal.

Truck traffic harming public safety was first. Buss responded that MNDOT has no safety concerns.

“Potentially, we have a bad intersection there,” Council member Sally Swanson said, “but we do not control state and county highways.”

The city dealt with the groundwater concerns of geologist Scott Alexander, Buss said, by including his recommendations in the conditions.

Keeping a 25-feet separation between mining activity and groundwater has also been dealt with by changing language in the conditions, Buss said.

The planning commission’s criticism that the mine does not add jobs was rejected because that is not a requirement for a conditional use permit.

Swanson said gravel does gives jobs to people to build roads, stadiums, bridges. Member Jim Schneider also spoke of the need for gravel. “We should use our resources,” he said.

To the planning commission concern over property values, the council’s main response was to keep the mining period as short as possible.

As for scenic views, council members said that is a guideline, not a requirement.

City resources will not be strained by monitoring the conditions, staff concluded, because the city has an agreement with the miner to cover costs.

Using a higher standard for noise is not possible because state law says a city cannot adopt anything stricter than MPCA standards. (Noise standards are already exceeded on the highways.)

When Mayor Randall Simonson asked if council members saw any reason to deny the permit, all said no, including Chris Ness, who added “there are things I disagree with.”

Start Time and Duration

Even though some members want mining to end as soon as possible, none would commit to the 150-day option. The number of trucks per hour would be very high, and hauling on Lofton would continue after dark.

“Trying to get it done in 150 days would be an ugly scenario,” the mayor said.

Member Schneider preferred stretching the mining over 5 years to minimize the impact on traffic, noise and dust.

Swanson was interested in a two-year option, but because this was not studied, the number of trucks is unknown.

At the Jan. 15 meeting the council voted to end trucking at 2 p.m. on Fridays in the summer.

Residents have recommended not allowing mining in peak tourism time, Memorial Day to Labor Day. When Simonson recommended stopping mining between these dates, he got little support.

Ness was intrigued. “In an ideal world, I like it,” he said. “I’d be for that if it can be done.”

“Those two weekends, maybe, but not the summer in between,” Schneider said. (Mining is already prohibited on weekends and holidays.) Swanson and Lee were also opposed.

The council consensus was a 3.3-year duration, with mining to start 30 days after all permits are in. (More permits are required after the CUP is issued.)

Tiller’s Proposed Changes

The council did not make wording changes requested by Tiller to the effect that the city “may” do certain monitoring, instead of “shall.” If the city failed to do the monitoring, could the permit be revoked, even though the applicant was not at fault?

City Attorney Vince Stevens said that was highly unlikely, and the council preferred stronger wording to commit future councils to follow the procedures.

A change to require spill cleanup equipment only when equipment is present was accepted.

The council deleted a statement that the city will ask for a MNDOT speed study. Simonson said a future work session will address this concern, not only at CR-91 and TR-97 but also at other roads.

The conditions originally prohibited Tiller from using local streets to haul sand and gravel. At the Jan. 15 meeting, Mike Caron asked that Tiller trucks be allowed on city streets so the company can bid for local projects.

The council agreed to using local streets but will require advance notice. “I want to see our citizens receive the best pricing,” Simonson said.

Truck traffic will not be required to use Manning Trail instead of Lofton Avenue when turning east (left) onto TH-97. Ness was concerned about safety at that intersection but received no support.

With a non-chloride dust control required, Tiller said it made no sense to water the haul roads, washing the chemical off, so that was deleted.

Some conditions will be moved from the conditional use permit to the annual operating permit, where they can be reviewed each year.

Bike Trail

For years the city has planned to require that Tiller fix the dilapidated bike trail in the MNDOT right-of-way east of TH-95.

In a letter dated Oct. 13, MNDOT said it does not plan to require the miner to rebuild the trail.

Because the trail is only 0.38 miles long, does not connect with other current or future trails and is rarely used, MNDOT does not plan to maintain it.

Buss said Scandia can require that Tiller reconstruct the trail only if the city gets a 10-year limited use permit from MNDOT, taking over all maintenance and liability.

Scandia is a popular summer biking destination and the city encourages biking, but council members balked at taking on the neglected bike trail.

“I’ve ridden on it:  It’s in horrible shape,” Swanson said. “What if we don’t maintain it? Will we still have to insure it? We’re responsible if someone does get hurt.”

Buss said MNDOT is not requiring the city to rebuild the trail or even to maintain it: MNDOT just wants to be rid of it. “If someone calls and asks, ‘Why aren’t you shoveling this trail?’ they can say it’s the city’s responsibility.”

“They want to abandon it,” Swanson said.

The council will return to this issue after Buss researches whether Scandia would have to buy an easement if the city turns down the current offer but later wants to take over the trail.

Financing

To reimburse the city’s costs and ensure that reclamation will be paid for, Tiller must set aside funds. Usually this would be done through a letter of credit.

For the Zavoral Mine, Tiller Attorney Greg Korstad proposed a three-part approach with a letter of credit, performance bond and cash escrow.

The council accepted this idea but increased the bond amount from $450,000 to $550,000.

Scandia resident Tom Triplett, former chair of the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board, said in the past getting reclamation done has been a problem.

He recommended the city add a requirement that the Washington County Conservation District, or some other independent entity, certify that the reclamation actions are completed in all material respects, as specified in the plans.

“At the end, that some reputable independent entity is going to sign off on this is one additional protection,” Triplett said. “In my experience, you can’t always count on the consultants you hire. You need an independent review.”

Simonson and Ness agreed. “We should say now that we will seek it,” Ness said.

What’s Next

On Feb. 19 the council was scheduled to vote on the conditional use permit to reopen the mine.

The annual operating permit, compliance and reclamation agreement, and limited use permit with MNDOT were on the agenda.

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