The controversial mining of a sand and gravel pit near the St. Croix River has ended, and a community solar garden soon will take its place.
The three-megawatt solar garden, known as Argo Navis, would occupy part of the land that was mined by Tiller Corp., a Maple Grove company. The Scandia City Council has approved the proposal by Geronimo Energy, and the next step is approval from Xcel Energy, said City Planner Sherri Buss.
“In most people’s minds that’s a happy ending,” said Deb Ryun of the St. Croix River Association.
The City Council approved permits to reopen the Zavoral Mine in 2013 after extensive public debate over noise, heavy truck traffic and possible Indian burial grounds. The National Park Service, which manages the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, objected to the mine because of its proximity to the federally protected river.
Tiller was permitted to haul sand and gravel for up to 40 months out of the 114-acre site near the intersection of Hwys. 97 and 95, and required to reclaim the land after mining ceased. The company removed 1.2 million tons of gravel.
“We’ve completed the substantial mining of the site,” Tiller spokeswoman Christina Morrison said Friday. “We did our best to design the reclamation so that it would be cohesive with the adjacent land forms, compatible with neighboring land uses. It’s similar to that look and feel, and typical of the St. Croix River.”
Geronimo proposes to build the solar garden at the bottom of the mine pit where it won’t be visible. The $3.1 million project would be one of 28 community solar gardens the company has developed in Minnesota. A solar garden is a centralized, shared solar array connected to the energy grid.
Scandia’s city administrator, Neil Soltis, said the city doesn’t yet have a development agreement with Geronimo but expects to work on that over the fall and winter so construction can begin in 2017.
“One of the keys in the development agreement will be the handoff of reclamation responsibilities from Tiller to Geronimo,” he said.
A Geronimo spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
Tiller, meanwhile, will review site conditions with the city after reclamation is completed “so we can all walk away happy,” Morrison said. Tiller tried hard to be a good neighbor whenever anyone called with a concern and responded to complaints in a timely fashion, she said.
The end of mining means that heavy trucks no longer make up to 600 daily trips to and from the site, Morrison said.
Permits granted to Tiller included a prohibition of any mining for fracking sand, a practice that has raised concerns up and down the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers.
A monitoring report by the Washington Conservation District, sent to the city of Scandia in May, listed no areas of concern from the most recent inspection.