State’s largest gravel pit to open in 2005Neighbors worry about huge excavation site in Dakota County(Wisconsin) The state’s largest gravel pit – a 3,600-acre monster that could swallow the downtowns of St. Paul and Minneapolis – is on track to open in 2005.That, plus another new rock quarry that is a mere 900 acres, cement Dakota County’s reputation as Gravelville – the region’s premier source for construction rock of all kinds.But some neighbors say that the plans are, well, the pits. The larger mine will eventually generate as many as 3,000 truckloads a day – not including the return trips. Some homeowners are aghast at a business so huge it could generate its own traffic jams.”We just want to stay here; we want to stay on our land,” said Fran Edelman of rural Farmington, as she pointed to a row of trees along her property line, where the larger gravel pit will be. She’s not being forced to move but said a gravel mine on two sides of her land would ruin the neighborhood.But quarry owners and public officials say they have no choice. A shortage in gravel could boost the price of everything from freeways to sidewalks to schools, quarry operators say, and nature happened to put the gravel in Edelman’s back yard.The mega-quarry will be run by a group of five mining companies, according to Bob Bieraugel, assistant vice president for properties of Aggregate Industries North Central Region Inc.In addition to that company, the other partners are: Tiller Corp., Maple Grove; Fischer Sand & Aggregate Co., Apple Valley; Cemstone Products Co., Mendota Heights; and McNamara Contracting Inc., Apple Valley.Each will operate in a separate area, Bieraugel said. No one knows whether some or all the pits will be joined in the future.He said although there may have been larger quarries in the past, this would be the largest now operating in Minnesota.The huge size offers economies of scale, he said. “It’s easier to write an environmental review and the impact statement if you control everything,” Bieraugel said.The price of gravel has been an issue for taxpayers for decades. Public projects account for half of the metro area’s consumption of 30 million tons a year, officials say.That averages out to about 11 tons per year for every person in the metro area, or half of a large dump truck-full apiece. It requires excavating between one and two square miles per year, according to Fred Corrigan, director of the Aggregate and Ready Mix Association.And the best gravel available now is in Dakota County, where ancient glaciers ground limestone into chunks just the right size for construction. The deposits are also “clean” – free of contaminants such as iron ore or shale, which absorb water and can pop out of finished concrete.Like all gravel, it’s cheap to mine but very expensive to ship. At current prices, it costs $10 to ship a truckload of gravel five miles.That’s why the new gravel mines are so important, Corrigan said. Shipping gravel from farther-flung quarries could increase prices of everything from highways to church basements.”Imagine thousands of trucks coming from St. Cloud or Iowa,” said Todd Iverson, lobbyist for the aggregate association.As it is, trucks will be coming from the larger mine in waves.Bieraugel said about 450,000 truck trips per year are projected – an average of about 1,200 per day. Because of holidays and other nonworking days, the peak traffic could be as high as 3,000 trucks daily carrying full loads.The truck traffic is one reason gravel pits aren’t usually popular with neighbors, the quarry operators admit. But they say the mines can become community assets after they are depleted – the Arbor Lakes shopping center in Maple Grove is one example, as are several lakes in the area.It’s unclear how long this quarry will operate, but gravel pits typically last 20 to 25 years.”The trick,” said Corrigan, “is how to satisfy those neighbors in the interim.”That’s not always easy.Neighbors fought the 900-acre quarry scheduled to be opened north of Cannon Falls in 2005 by Kraemer and Sons, which operates a quarry in Burnsville.”The vast majority of people here oppose it,” said Daniel Duncomb, chairman of the board of supervisors of Douglas Township.Nevertheless, he and other opponents of both quarries say that only a few routine hurdles remain before the mining operations begin.Duncomb said the fight against the 900-acre mine failed because of a legal technicality.”We failed to act on a request for variances within a 60-day time period,” Duncomb said. A District Court judge ordered the township to grant that variance, clearing the way for the environmental impact statement. That will be completed in October, predicted Duncomb, and work on the site will begin next year.”Our main plan was to preserve the agricultural nature of the township,” Duncomb said. “But the court ordered us to do this, and whether I am opposed to it or not doesn’t make a whole lot of difference.”Some neighbors of the larger mine are complacent.”It’s part of progress, and you aren’t going to stop it,” said Bret Berg, as he searched for a replacement light bulb in a farm workshop along County Highway 3.Just down the road, Mark Brumm shrugged. “You’ve got to have gravel,” he said, sitting in the office of Albert J. Lauer, a builder of greenhouses. The business has agreed to move within a year or two to make way for the mine, he said.Brumm said that in the future, the quarries could be reclaimed for other uses. “It will be nice for your grandkids,” he said.But Edelman has six grandchildren today.From her kitchen window, at the edge of her property, she can see a tidy cream-colored playhouse with chalkboards inside so the children can play school. But as early as next year, a neighbor’s farmland only a few feet away from the playhouse could become a gravel pit.She’s not ready for that. She’s known for years that the area was changing, but assumed that development would be residential.”We’d rather have a school or church next to us,” she said, “rather than a gravel pit.”BY BOB SHAWPioneer Press
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