Months later, Scott County speedway plan sits in limbo

  • Article by: DAVID PETERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 3, 2012 - 9:39 PM

Both sides wonder if a serious proposal will materialize.

Four months after word began to spread of a proposed NASCAR-style motor speedway in southern Scott County, no application has been filed.

And it became clear on Saturday at a meeting between officials and opponents that both sides find themselves in an odd and parallel position.

Opponents want to mobilize public opposition right now. But they are running into a lot of questions about whether the whole thing is for real.

Officialdom knows this could be one of the biggest things ever to hit the county. Yet the idea has been shopped repeatedly to other communities over many years' time without going anywhere, and there's no point plunging a lot of staff time into it in unless it gets more serious.

"We try to limit the time we spend on anything until it's a real, live project," the county's planning director, Brad Davis, told Saturday's gathering of about 50 people in New Market Township.

Added Tom Terry, city administrator in Elko New Market, which would have to grant the final permissions:

"We've done a little Googling of course to find out who they are, and learn more about speedways, but no more in-depth research than most of you have done."

The developer has not paid anything to cover the county's initial costs for the needed preliminary studies, they said.

A firm called International Motorsports Entertainment and Development, out of Blaine, has proposed a 65,000-seat oval track and other ancillary development on roughly 400 acres near the intersection of Interstate 35 and County Road 2, just east of Elko New Market.

About 200 people and lots of local officials attended a presentation in November that led opponents to begin to organize. But officially it's all still in suspended animation.

The officials did signal to the crowd, however, that now may be a crucial moment.

"I can't speak to specifically why they didn't move forward in other locations," Terry said, "but ... as they put their toes in the political waters, and gauge public sentiment, they may determine the risk of [not] having it approved in the end is too great."

Environmental approvals for a project of this magnitude are costly and time-consuming, both men said, and the project will need the near-unanimous consent of the Elko New Market City Council. Changing a city's comprehensive plan takes four votes out of five.

Moreover, there are likely to be costly needs for new infrastructure, and because the main nearby roadway is an interstate freeway, that could drag in the federal as well as state government.

Environmental reviews will take well into 2013 at a minimum, they said, with multiple stages for public involvement at both the county and local levels.

As daunting as it all sounds, New Market Township resident Amy Lewis, who finds herself leading the opposition, cautioned against complacency.

"If we wait till there's a vote," she said, "we could be dead in the water as far as fighting this."

The process of informing and persuading constituents in Elko New Market could be arduous and needs to begin at once, she said.

Opponents have a website at nomnspeedway-park.wordpress.com, while the developer has one at www.intmotorsport.com.

Among the key points Terry and Davis made, often in response to questions:

• There's no possibility of a referendum on the issue. It will go through normal processes just like any development.

• The city will license the track if it's built and can use that as a hammer to enforce noise rules and the like.

• If the public is asked to pay for infrastructure, there will have to be some means of ensuring follow-up from the developer.

• The developer will be expected to pay for some portion of that, but other pots of money may come into play as well.

• The county is limited in what it can do, but the city has the right to take all issues into consideration and decide whether it all makes sense.

"At the end of the day," Terry said, "is it a net negative or positive? Is it a good fit for the community? ... That's a policy decision, it isn't just 1 plus 1 equals 2."

David Peterson • 952-746-3285

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