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County to 'dig a little deeper' on gravel pit impact on wildlife

A meeting held Tuesday, Oct. 10 addressing a proposed 39.9-acre gravel pit near Forada still drew a crowd, even though it wasn’t open for public comment. (Beth Leipholtz / Echo Press)

Douglas County Land and Resource Management received 48 pages of comments about a proposed 39.9-acre gravel pit near Forada. Among those, the comment from the Department of Natural Resources about potential impact on wildlife was one that stood out.

As he summarized comments at the Douglas County Planning Advisory Commission/Board of Adjustment meeting Tuesday, Oct 10, this particular one puzzled Dave Rush, director of Douglas County Land and Resource Management. He said the DNR initially did not express concerns when an Environmental Assessment Worksheet, or EAW, for the project was completed.

"That report that was included in the EAW came back saying, 'No, there's no special habitats or species of special concern,'" Rush said. "But the comment letter that they subsequently provided said there isn't enough information or evaluation of how this may impact wildlife. ... I think it would be useful for us to maybe dig a little deeper and see if the DNR has some specific information given that they're a wildlife agency."

Rush continued, addressing more written comments on the gravel pit proposal, which were received by the county over a 33-day period from the end of August to the end of September.

A number of concerns

Though not open for public comment, the meeting still drew a crowd, as attendees spilled out the doorway of the Commissioner's Room in the Douglas County Courthouse.

In asking for comments, the county was looking for what it calls substantive comments, meaning a comment that has a direct concern that can be addressed, rather than a comment with general statements.

Dave Rush, director of Douglas County Land and Resource Management, presented a summary of the comments to the Douglas County commissioners.

"What I was looking for in the comments is comments relating to the EAW (Environmental Assessment Worksheet)," Rush explained. "So environmental concerns, potential impacts, information that we don't know about."

Rush stated that the concerns expressed in the comments from the public generally fell into one of the following areas:

• Noise

• Traffic

• Safety of children

• Dust, from health and annoyance standpoints

• Ground water concerns

• Water quality concerns

• Property value

One area of comment that Rush elaborated on was the concern of dust containing crystalline silica, a naturally occurring material that can become airborne in sand and gravel mining.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, breathing in the dust can cause scar tissue on the lungs, a condition called silicosis. Silicosis can make it more difficult for the lungs to take in oxygen. There is no cure for this condition, and in some cases it is fatal.

"The one concern I have about the comments about dust that I have not seen before in a proposal is there were many comments about silica," Rush said. "I've not seen that before in a gravel mining situation. ... What I am going to try to find out is typical aggregate mining versus silica sand mining, what are the differences? These concerns that have been raised, are they more related to that silica sand mining, or are those same sort of concerns something we need to be aware of for typical aggregate mining?"

In addition to the specific concerns, the comments also stated broader concerns about how a gravel mining operation could affect the city of Forada.

"There was the idea that having this use there is going to change the character of the area and the quietness, that it might draw people away and affect the economy," Rush said.

In addition to wildlife concerns, the DNR also expressed some concern over potential pollution of groundwater and the reclamation process for the area.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency also submitted a comment, addressing noise and the need to clarify noise restrictions.

What's next?

According to Rush, the next step in the process is responding to each of the comments the Douglas County Land and Resource Management received.

"Some of those responses will simply say comment noted," Rush said. "But the discussions on noise and groundwater, things we need to dig up, that's what will be included in the response."

Rush will then bring the responses back to the commissioners and have another discussion before moving forward.

About the gravel pit

The proposal for the gravel pit was submitted by Minnerath Investments LLC, owned by Joe Minnerath, who also owns road contractor Central Specialties Inc. It states that the company would mine the agricultural land for gravel.

The proposed 39.9-acre site for the gravel pit is in Hudson Township, next to the city of Forada. An entrance and exit would be built on County Road 4 at the north end of the site. It would operate from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday from April through November, and trucks would make an average of 10 trips to the gravel pit per hour.

Beth Leipholtz

Beth is a reporter at the Echo Press. She graduated from the College of Saint Benedict in May 2015 with a degree in Communication and Hispanic Studies. Journalism has always been her passion, but she also enjoys blogging and graphic design. In her spare time, she's most likely at Crossfit or at home with her boyfriend and three dogs.

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