As many area residents know, Scandia is considering an application to open the Zavoral gravel mine at the intersection of highways 95 and 97. On December 12th, at the Scandia Community Center, the Scandia Planning Commission will consider final public comments on whether or not to grant a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) that authorizes opening the mine. As I understand it, the Planning Commission will make a recommendation to the City Council by January 2nd, 2013 either to approve the CUP with conditions and mitigations, or not to approve it. The Scandia City Council will make a final decision on the CUP by February 20th, 2013. If the CUP is approved by the Council, mining will begin early next year.
You have also likely heard that sand and gravel mining has increased dramatically in the past few years. The demand for frac sand is the big driver; some have called it the new gold rush. But what does that mean? Does it add value to your community, or is it a cost?
Others have done a great job of calling attention to environmental impacts and concerns. But before granting non-metallic mining permits, cities would do well to seriously consider the costs and benefits of additional mining.
It is known that truck traffic will increase significantly; some estimates are a truck at least every 5 minutes, at times more. These vehicles are huge, carrying heavy loads. Are there local roads that will be impacted, besides the state highways? What is the estimated increased wear on the roads? How much revenue will the community gain through taxes, and what additional services that will be required to support the business?
Highways 95 and 97 are both used for local traffic and by tourists. Will people avoid using those highways once the truck traffic begins? What will the addition of this industry cost in lost potential revenue for already existing businesses? Will small cottage industries and established shops be driven out by the intrusion of the mine and the change in quality of life? Residents have already raised concerns about their property value declining; will the increase in tax revenue from the mine offset the residential loss? What impacts will the mine have on future development? How many local jobs will this bring to the community? Will they be well-paying jobs that will provide long-term income, jobs families can count on into the future?
The St. Croix River is a national park which draws thousands of visitors annually. Will the noise, dust, and other impacts of the mine change how the river is perceived? People love the river for many reasons, and come back often for its peace and beauty and the feeling that they are getting away from it all. Will people still have that same experience once the mine is fully operating? What impacts will that have on businesses that rely on river users?
I don’t pretend to have done an in-depth analysis; this sort of thing should be left to experts and the people most closely involved. And I’ve stated just a few of the questions that should be considered. But I firmly believe that a thorough analysis is important for the long-term health of the region. Answers to these and other questions are necessary to determine the public good, including the environmental impacts. Scandia would do well to have a conversation with people in the town of McGregor, Iowa, and other small towns that the “new gold rush” has impacted. It is important for everyone to understand what this flash industry might cost in the long run. To read the ordinances, and the criteria for a CUP, go to: http://www.ci.scandia.mn.us. Codes and Ordinances are a link at the bottom, left hand column of the home page.