Nothing like a spicy local dispute to draw crowds.
A proposal to reopen a sand and gravel mine in Scandia, a small city near the federally protected St. Croix River, already has packed City Hall for two Planning Commission hearings. A third meeting comes at 7 p.m. Thursday when the five commission members begin their debate of Tiller Corporation's conditional use permit application.
"I would say this is democracy at work," said Christine Maefsky, who chairs the commission. "I'm actually quite proud of people in our community who are stepping forward and speaking their minds."
Tiller seeks to excavate more than 1 million tons of sand and gravel from the old Zavoral mine, which has been dormant since the 1980s. Unlike other proposals in the St. Croix region, the Tiller permit doesn't seek to extract the more profitable and controversial ultra-fine "fracking" sand used in oil drilling.
The years-long debate over Tiller's proposal has been emotional for residents of Scandia, the first Swedish settlement in Minnesota, because of the mine's proximity to the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. The riverway is a national park. Noise from big trucks and equipment at the mine, at the intersection of Hwys. 95 and 97, also concerns many residents and the National Park Service.
Some people spoke in favor of Tiller's application, Maefsky said. Dozens of people testified at recent hearings.
"It's the most I've ever seen," she said. "This issue has ignited some very strong feelings. We have so many articulate residents."
The public comment period is now closed, she said. The Thursday discussion at Scandia City Hall will be followed by a commission vote on Jan. 2. The commission then will forward its recommendation on the matter to the City Council for another round of debate.
"We knew a lot of folks would have something to say," she said of the Washington County city of about 4,000 residents.
Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037