A conditional use permit for a proposed 39.9-acre gravel pit next to the city of Forada was denied by the Douglas County Planning Advisory Commission at a meeting Tuesday, March 23.

But, the project, which is highly opposed by the residents of the small town south of Alexandria, is not completely doomed yet as it still has to go before the Douglas County Board of Commissioners.

In addition, in the motion to deny the permit, the members of the Planning Advisory Commission directed Dave Rush, director of Land and Resource Management for Douglas County, to have his staff draw up findings of facts for why the permit was denied. Once those are written, it will go back to the Planning Advisory Commission for review and approval. Once they approve the review, it will go to the Douglas County Board of Commissioners. No dates have been set for either of those meetings.

Background

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In 2010, an application to operate the aggregate mine near Forada was submitted. On Sept. 3 of that year, the county held a public meeting to view the project area. A public hearing was then set for Sept. 14, but prior to that meeting the application was withdrawn.

Several years later, in 2017, Minnerath Investments and Central Specialties voluntarily completed an environmental assessment worksheet on the operation. The assessment was facilitated by the county and included opportunities for public comment. After considering the EAW, along with all the comments that were received, the Douglas County Board decided that no further environmental review needed to be completed.

Prior to the board making that decision in 2017, Rush explained to the commissioners that they were not making a decision on the actual project, but that they had to decide if more information was needed on the proposed gravel pit project if a permit was applied for and brought before the board.

A permit was not brought before the board until this year.

Opposition

About 25 people showed up to Tuesday’s meeting, with more joining in via phone and video conferencing. Several spoke in opposition of the project, including the Forada mayor, Dave Reller. He provided a long list of reasons why the project faces such opposition, including health and safety of the residents, traffic, dust, groundwater contamination, property values of homes in the area and more.

He said there is “nothing positive” about the project and that the city of Forada could not support the permit.

Hudson Township Supervisor Jeffrey Tvrdik said he “gives props” to the proposers of the gravel pit – Minnerath Investments LLC – for their thorough and well thought out plan.

“Hudson Township Board does not support it,” he said. “I say it with hesitation, but we were a no.”

Others who spoke out in opposition included Bob Verkinderen, Gary Krukoski, Mike Grove, Kayla Reigstad, Scott Erickson, Brad Brezina, Spencer Lee and Brent Howard. Many others wrote letters in opposition of the project.

Reigstad, who became quite emotional, talked about how her and her friends when they were young and curious, almost drowned while swimming in a gravel pit.

“We never went back after that incident,” she said.

Reigstad admitted that it was dumb to do in the first place, but they were kids and naïve to the dangers. But now, as she has children of her own, having a gravel pit right in the town she lives in scares her.

“I don’t want to relive that terror, it was very emotional,” she said. “Imagine if it were your children.”

Concerns understood

Al Minnerath from Central Specialties spoke at Tuesday’s night meeting. Several others joined him, including Russ Larson, Brian Minnerath, Ryan Minnerath and Shane Carlberg.

Al Minnerath talked about the company and all it does for the community, including saving taxpayers millions of dollars by providing lower bids on road projects, giving nearly $500,000 in donations to charitable organizations, plus paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes each year. He also noted that the company has grown over the years and now employs an estimated 350 people.

Minnerath also noted that some changes were made to the proposed plan based on the concerns of the community, including paving the driveway and using water on roads to lessen the amount of dust, among others.

He said he understands the concerns from the community of Forada.

“With that being said, however, people also want well-maintained roads,” he said. “This gravel pit is the starting point for those roads in the county.”