The Carver County Planning Commission recently voted in favor of a substantial gravel pit expansion south of the city of Carver, despite passionate pleas opposing the project.
Opponents packed the meeting room and provided a petition of more than 100 signatures against the expansion, but the commission on Nov. 19 unanimously favored an interim use permit (IUP) application for Wm. Mueller & Sons (WMS) on property it currently leases from Paul and Jeanne Lundquist.
If the application is eventually approved by the county’s board of commissioners, WMS would purchase about 103 acres of Lundquist’s property, including the 20 acres already under lease for mining. The site is off of County Road 40 near East Union Lutheran Church in Dahlgren Township.
“I understand the peoples’ concerns, but I think you have to mine gravel where you can find it these days,” County Commissioner Jim Ische said, just before the vote. “There is so much demand for it.”
Opponents have at least two chances to possibly delay or thwart issuance of the permit: the board of commissioners meeting on Dec. 3, and legal action.
“We’re still trying to sort things out with the county,” said Adam Falkenstein, who with his family and his father’s (Roger Falkenstein) family, live on separate properties adjacent to the mining property in question. “If it passes through the board of commissioners, then we have 10 days to appeal that decision. Then, if needed, there is the possibility to pursue other action.”
The Falkensteins and about a dozen others who commented during the planning commission’s nearly 3.5-hour meeting voiced, in part, concerns about anticipated drastic increases in noise, traffic and dust if the mine is expanded.
Several people also suggested property values in the area would substantially decrease, possibly as much as 30 percent. An environmental impact report was presented during the commission meeting, but not an economic impact survey.
Roger Falkenstein said he has been working with the city of Carver, as part of its orderly annexation plan, to potentially have a park and more residential lots on his land near the gravel pit, but that would likely be in jeopardy with the expanded gravel pit.
One section of the application indicates the permit shall be issued if “the activity will have no substantial adverse impact on surrounding property or that the impact will be alleviated through the conditions of the permit.”
“I would say that losing up to 30 percent of your property’s value is an adverse impact; and that’s not just for me, but for everyone who lives around here,” Falkenstein said, referring to studies related to other gravel pits. “It’s just a travesty.”
WMS has leased a 20-acre parcel from the Lundquists at 15125 Highway 40 since 2003, mining about 6 acres at a time under a conditional use permit. The facility has averaged about 176 truck trips a day to that site along the two-lane highway. The average load is about 19 tons and hauling occurs about 180 days a year, from about 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., according to the application.
Proposed changes to that mining site would expand the maximum operational area for production and storage activities, including recycling and crushing, to 35 acres at a time. It would also increase average daily truck trips to about 400, with hauling allowed from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. except Sundays, holidays and special events at the nearby church.
Bypass and acceleration lanes would need to be added near the lone entrance/exit of the gravel pit to accommodate the increased traffic.
The mining project, including reclamation, is expected to operate another “15 to 20 years or more,” according to the application. WMS has a 300-acre Carver mine operation about 1.5 miles north of the Lundquist mine.
Mori Willemsen, vice president of WMS, said after the meeting that the company realizes traffic is and will continue to be a legitimate concern at the Lundquist site.
“Traffic is a major issue in that area for sure,” he said, adding that trucks leaving mud on the roadway when leaving the site “has been a nightmare.”
When asked about his thoughts on the size of the opposition at the meeting, Willemsen said: “I was prepared for it because I had met with Roger. When he told me about all the opposition out there, I was a bit appalled by it because, like I said, we’ve been out there 15-16 years and not really heard any big issues except tracking issues on the road.”
Willemsen also said he and the Falkensteins are “on the same team. We are going to work with those neighbors.”
Adam Falkenstein, after hearing of Willemsen’s comments, said: “We’re not on the same page at all. They have talked with us a couple of times, but they talked like they were willing to negotiate some of this stuff, but we have by no means found any middle ground.”
Dahlgren Township, where the Lundquist mine is located, previously approved the application request. Township chair Mark Willems said at the town board’s Nov. 18 meeting that the board’s approval didn’t matter.
“Whether we would have disapproved this or approved it, the only way a township can stop a project is if it’s on a gravel road,” said Willems, who is vice chairman of the county’s planning commission. “We could have every resident in the township here saying they didn’t want it, but that’s not a legal reason to deny it.”
Jason Mielke, the county’s land use manager, said he will pass along all letters and written comments he receives about the gravel pit to the county board for its upcoming meeting.
“When you pack the board room for a planning commission meeting, well, that tells you there are some concerns out there,” he said.