Citizens hope to block proposed quarry in western Minnesota
CLINTON, Minn. -- Citizens are organizing to try to block a proposed quarry on the western edge of Minnesota, fearing it will spoil a scenic landscape of rock outcroppings and prairie.
Strata Corporation of Grand Forks, N.D., wants to develop a 104-acre quarry adjacent to the Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge between Ortonville and Odessa. The quarry would be part of a 478-acre property that hosts nine species of rare and endangered plants, including ball cacti found nowhere else in Minnesota, the West Central Tribune of Willmar reported Thursday.
The area is also home to Clark Mastel, his family and their 400-head, beef cattle operation. He and other residents gathered in Clinton on Sunday to discuss plans for trying to persuade the Big Stone County Board of Commissioners to reject the conditional use permit Strata is seeking.
"We've went to bed more than once with tears in our eyes worried about what is going to happen here," Mastel said.
Project manager Bill LaFond said Strata is committed to limiting the environmental damage as much as possible and to reducing the impact on the rare plants and the Mastels' neighboring farm. But he says the regional construction industry needs the crushed rock the quarry will provide.
"At this point in time we have to develop our natural resources in a wise fashion," LaFond told the newspaper.
The ancient glacier that carved the Minnesota River Valley scoured away the soil and left the high-quality, granite bedrock visible -- and accessible to mine.
"This is special," said Don Felton, who pointed out where bison once rubbed off their winter coats on the protruding rocks; the buffing still shows as a lichen-free shine on select rocks.
Felton was joined by Kathy Longhenry and Nancy Aune, sisters who grew up across from the site along U.S. Highway 75. They have memories of horseback rides and adventures on the open landscape. The sisters said the views and outdoor opportunities support tourism and a way of life worth fighting for.
Lodging and hospitality industry revenues in 2010 in Big Stone County totaled $4.1 million, with tax revenues to all sources of $282,000, according to the Minnesota Department of Revenue.
Mastel hosts an annual trail ride on the property that attracts well over a hundred guests. He said people always tell him: "I didn't know this was down here. It's absolutely beautiful."
The quarry would pay a projected $20,000 a year in taxes to Big Stone County and Ortonville Township and would create six to eight jobs.
LaFond said Strata conducted an extensive site study that identified more than 20,000 ball cacti. Quarry operations would take 130 of them, he said. The company offered to place 59 acres in a protected parcel for the plants and give it to the wildlife refuge, which declined it. The parcel's jagged boundary and lack of a buffer means a high likelihood that dust would adversely affect the protected plants, according to refuge officials.
The area is already home to two large quarries. Cold Spring-based Cold Spring Granite Co. has an architectural stone and aggregate quarry nearby. Sioux Falls, S.D.-based L.G. Everest Inc. has a larger aggregate quarry adjacent to Strata's site. The site is also adjacent to a BNSF Railway Co. line, which La Fond said was a major factor in its selection.
Strata intends to develop the quarry in three phases over a projected lifespan of 130 years. It says the first of the three sites would be located the farthest from the refuge and from the Mastels' home and cattle operation. The rock would be crushed and conveyed directly to trains to minimize trucking and other noise and dust-generating activity.
Gayle Hedge, who owns the 478-acre site and leases it to Strata, said he rejected another company but was assured by Strata that it would do all it could to minimize the impacts.
Hedge, a farmer and businessman with a trucking company and other operations in the Ortonville area, said he was motivated by a desire for economic development in the county. He's seen too many young people leave the area for lack of opportunity. He's well-aware of the opposition, but said a lot of people support it.
Others say there's too much to lose. Rusty Dinberg, an Ortonville Township supervisor and farmer who grew up near the site, said there are plenty of other aggregate resources available, and he vowed to protect the site.
"It's something that I have been with all my life and I want it to be here after I leave, when I'm dead and gone," he said.