With little ceremony, all five members of the Scandia City Council voted last week to allow a sand and gravel mine near the protected St. Croix River.
Three permits granted to Tiller Corp., a Maple Grove company, included stronger restrictions that were negotiated with opponents of the mine, including several conservation groups. One of the more explicit amendments would prohibit Tiller from mining for fracking sand, an industry that is raising concerns up and down the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers.
“A lot of safeguards went into this,” said Council Member Chris Ness after Mayor Randall Simonson thanked residents for helping to amend permits. They will govern Tiller’s 3.3-year excavation of the dormant Zavoral mine east of the intersection of Hwy. 95 and Hwy. 97 in Scandia.
“I think these do have teeth,” said Council Member Dan Lee.
A Tiller representative, Mike Caron, said after Tuesday night’s meeting that the company hoped to start mining sometime this year after securing additional state and watershed permits. “This is a project that we feel is ultimately going to benefit the city,” he said, citing reclamation Tiller will do at the mine site.
But opponents vowed the fight wasn’t over. Tom Triplett, a spokesman for several conservation groups that contend mining noise and potential spills could be ruinous to the St. Croix, said the council should have denied permits to Tiller.
“If necessary, we’ll take legal action and the council knows that,” Triplett said.
Another opponent, Scandia resident Micheal Richey, said the vicinity of the mine contains American Indian burial sites and that reopening the mine will further desecrate them.
“It’s a very sad day for Scandia,” said Richey, who leads a ministry named World O. Wellness Foundation.
State historical preservation officials examined the site about four years ago but found no evidence of burials, said City Administrator Khristina Handt.
Chris Stein, superintendent of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, a national park, was also critical.
“When Congress passed the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, our lawmakers knew that communities would also need to support the riverway …,” Stein said. “In this case, it appears that Scandia’s decisionmakers decided that park values were of secondary importance to protect.”
The threat of contaminated water being spilled into the river has worried conservationists because of recent Tiller violations in Grantsburg, Wis., and North Branch in Chisago County.