Sand mining back on Columbus council’s agenda

Forest Lake Contracting seeks permit for five more years of hauling


Paul Rignell
Columbus Reporter

Whenever most of the snow has finally melted and the ground begins to thaw, the unofficial construction season will once again affect many cities. Columbus’ top concern on that front last year came from families on Tulane and Vassar streets, south of the John’s Black Dirt site, where local company Forest Lake Contracting excavated sand for use in off-site construction.

Soon, the Columbus City Council will vote on an interim use permit request that would allow for five more years of hauling sand.

Project history

Before last summer, there had been no mining on the site since 2010, but through 40 years of sporadic digging, all hauling trucks traditionally had accessed the site from the north through the Wyoming intersection of Kettle River Boulevard and 189th Avenue, which becomes 250th Street in Chisago County.

Wyoming officials blocked Forest Lake Contracting’s further use of those roads in June by enacting a 5-ton weight limit on 250th Street. With no other route to reach their established gate for John’s Black Dirt, Forest Lake Contracting arranged a new statement of understanding with Columbus for allowing truck traffic to shift south onto Tulane and Vassar streets, which are accessible from 181st Avenue and Kettle River Boulevard without entering Wyoming.

Based on production estimates, residents on Tulane and Vassar were told to expect one truck on each street every 10 minutes during work hours. John’s Black Dirt opened a new truck access at the south end of its property, off of 186th Avenue.

Current request

The statement of understanding expired Dec. 31, and Forest Lake Contracting reapplied for an interim use permit with Columbus in time for council review Feb. 26. Company representatives asked in a subsequent letter dated Feb. 21, however, that the council postpone its review until a meeting in March.

Regardless, the company’s application had entered the public record, and a few Tulane-Vassar neighbors were eager Feb. 26 to share feelings on the future for the site and their roads.

Forest Lake Contracting is asking to remove a maximum of 340,000 cubic yards of sand remaining at the site over a five-year period. The company would restrict its truck traffic to between 7 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. weekdays and also limit loading from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on certain Saturdays (no more than 10 in one year).

If weather allowed for eight months of extracting and hauling, from early spring to late fall, Forest Lake Contracting estimates that the trucks could run on Tulane and Vassar at rates of barely more than once every 30 minutes. However, based on maximum daily need, the trucks might run once every three minutes in certain hours.

One neighbor who addressed the council said he lives near Vassar and 181st and that he would prefer the sand pits be emptied and prepared for redevelopment sooner rather than later. He said two years might be a good time, and he acknowledged there is remaining business at the site for a local company’s revenues.

Another resident from Vassar Street said he would be more accepting of a five-year plan if only his neighborhood streets could split the further weight and truckloads with 189th and 250th to the north.

Columbus officials, including City Attorney Bill Griffith, noted that the city of Wyoming’s standing action would prohibit that. Griffith added, however, his opinion that Wyoming enacted that traffic weight ban without legal basis.

The action could be challenged, he said, at Forest Lake Contracting’s initiative.

“That’s on the table,” he said of the company’s option to challenge Wyoming. “I wish they would look seriously at that.”

Columbus could choose to challenge Wyoming’s move from the city’s end, the attorney added, but likely all legal costs would need to be covered directly by city funds, as both cities are part of the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust.

Forest Lake Contracting officials are expected back before the Columbus council March 19. The council rescheduled its first regular meeting of the month to move it away from the weeklong spring break of Forest Lake Area Schools.