When the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources granted $200,000 toward a $400,000 paving project to prevent erosion at the Log House Landing in Scandia, city officials may have breathed a sigh of relief – especially because the local watershed district agreed to split the remainder of the cost.
But to neighbors who live near the boat launch on the St. Croix River, paving is not necessarily the best solution.
At a joint meeting of the Scandia City Council and the Carnelian-Marine-St. Croix Watershed District on Wednesday, July 2, several residents voiced objections.
Lisa Schlingerman recommended the city pursue a more thoughtful solution. While erosion needs to be addressed, she said, making the landing more accessible is “the wrong thing to do.”
Schlingerman had advocated limiting access to canoes and kayaks, saying modern boat trailers are too big for the boat launch.
Given its history as the landing site for Swedish immigrants settling in Scandia, its 200-feet-tall pine trees and its setting in a residential neighborhood, she said, the city should find a better way to provide the public a quiet, beautiful, historic place.
“This grant is causing so many problems, it’s really not worth it,” she said.
Jim Fitzpatrick wondered why the money was coming from a state parks road account, when the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway is administered by the National Park Service.
Fitzpatrick accused the city of “steamrolling this $400,000 project.”
Pam Smith said there should be give and take with the residents.
“I didn’t even know about this until I read the newspaper,” she said.
“I know money is hard to come by, but we don’t want to do that at the cost of changing the nature” of the site, she added. “It’s not that busy of a landing. Do we want it to be that busy?”
Judy Rydeen said a stand of virgin pines is very rare in Minnesota.
“To take them down would be an absolute sacrilege,” she said.
Rydeen also wondered why the National Park Service did not send a representative to the meeting. She was told Jill Medland had been invited and planned to attend.
“I’d like to have their input,” Rydeen said.
Leila Denecke reminded the council of its decision not to require a newly paved bike path when the Zavoral Mine reopened, because the city would have to maintain the path after it was built.
“I see the enticement of a $200,000 grant,” she said, “but then you have to spend $200,000. Are you going to start charging to use the ramp?” she asked.
Piers Lewis also brought up the issue of maintenance.
“If we maintain it the way the city maintains Quinnell . . .” he warned, referring to a paved road in that neighborhood that has been allowed to deteriorate. “We know what a paved road that isn’t maintained begins to look like over time.”
Lewis also said gravel runoff has ruined the trout stream he used to fish as a kid.
Catherine Lewis said people without boats sit on the rocks, picnic, make music and catch fish at the landing, and a concrete ramp will not fit with these uses of the site.
When Lewis asked whether the portion of Quint Avenue between Quinnell and 205th Street, east of the railroad track, would be abandoned, she was told this has not been decided. Lewis recommended keeping the road because at night it’s not possible to see over the railroad tracks at 205th.
Clay Christiansen gave the history of the Quint Avenue extension. In 1948, he said, his parents gave an easement for that stretch of land after a car stalled on the tracks and nearly missed being hit by a train. After the 25-year easement expired, it was not renewed but the road ended up in the public domain.
“I am in favor of keeping the road,” he said. “Closing it would violate the intention of my parents. They invested their time and money to make it accessible to the public.”
Another Catherine Lewis, from the next generation, urged the city to consider enforcement.
“Patrols, parking and security are important,” she said. “We want Scandia to invest in monitoring activity.”
Kristin Tuenge, president of the watershed board, recommended the city consider a compromise plan that would still allow storm water management and erosion control.
When someone asked, “Is there a cheaper project without the grant?” much of the audience applauded.
The project could be modified to minimize tree loss and make use of pervious surfaces, at least in the parking lot. But a major rethinking is probably not in the works.
“The district has explored these options for three or four years,” Carnelian-Marine-St. Croix Watershed District Administrator Jim Shaver said. “They have run the gamut from closing the road and landing to this current proposal. It would be duplicating efforts to get costs for those ideas now.”
Shaver expressed concern about the level of public involvement at this late stage in the process.
When the city’s comprehensive plan was developed, he said, numerous public meetings were held over two years, with many opportunities for public comment.
“This project is in your local water management plan,” he said.
City Administrator Kristina Handt also said that alternatives such as closing the landing or limiting it to canoes and kayaks were explored by the council and rejected a year ago.
City Engineer Ryan Goodman of Bolton & Menk and a consultant, water resources engineer Carl Almer of Emmons & Olivier Resources, attended the meeting.
A survey to identify the type and diameter of trees will be conducted, and engineers will explore the use of pervious pavement to minimize runoff from parking lanes.
Almer said that, while there are creative options, the proposed project is in the best interest of the city.
Watershed district manager Eric Lindberg of Stillwater Township said that while the city should also try to protect the trees, the main issue is protecting the river.
“I’ve been on the river 50 years,” he said, “and it has changed drastically. Why is it turning pea green in the summer? It never did that when I was a kid.”
Lindberg said the watershed district has been charged with reducing phosphorus levels and sediment loss.
“This is something we can do,” he concluded. Shaver agreed.
“To reduce this sediment load in the St. Croix is probably the most positive impact we can have on the river, maybe ever,” the watershed district administrator said. “We should not lose sight of that.”
Shaver pointed to the Piers Lewis comment that the trout stream had been ruined by erosion.
“That is exactly what the St. Croix will become,” he said.
Council Member Chris Ness said there are practical reasons to pave 205th Street. The city paid for three dump trucks of gravel in 2012.
“The city spends a lot of money to maintain that road with gravel,” he said. “We have to plow it. I really believe we have to pave it in some form. It’s in Scandia’s interest.”
Mayor Randall Simonson was willing to consider changes to the plan.
“The watershed district needs to brainstorm hard on what other alternatives are out there,” he said. “If it exists, I want it on the table.”
On the other hand, Simonson said, residents must have realistic expectations.
“No matter what we do, it’s never going to look the way it does today,” he said. “We can’t continue to keep pouring gravel on that road.”
Simonson said a previous road grader told him that workers backed the grader into the river and pulled gravel back up.
“These things have got to stop,”, the mayor said. “The bottom line is, we’ve got to protect the river.”