Roger Falkenstein says he has to close his windows to keep out the dust from the gravel mine near his home in Carver County. He and his family must cope, he says, with noise, trucks and a view marred by the berm around the mine.
And now he and many of his neighbors are afraid it could get worse.
The Carver County Planning Commission this week unanimously recommended a request by mine operator William Mueller and Sons to acquire more property, with the potential of digging bigger mines.
About 100 residents crowded Tuesday into the commission meeting, most of them opposing the plan.
About a dozen got up to complain that expanding the mine would increase noise, traffic and other problems, and slash the value of their property.
“What I planned for the future of our house, our property — it’s in serious jeopardy,” Falkenstein told the panel.
The County Board is scheduled to take up Mueller’s request at its Dec. 3 meeting. Board Chairman Randy Maluchnik said it would not simply rubber stamp the Planning Commission’s recommendation and that he will consider neighbors’ objections. But if the board rejects a permit request that meets legal requirements, he said, the decision could be overturned in court.
“Just because property owners or neighbors don’t like it doesn’t mean we can deny it,” he said.
Mueller, which since 2003 has operated the Lundquist sand and gravel mine on about 20 acres of leased farmland in Dahlgren Township, has applied for a permit to buy that land and about 80 acres surrounding it.
Under Mueller’s proposal, the company could mine up to 35 acres at a time, extend its daily operating hours from nine to 12, and work six days a week rather than five.
Truck trips in and out of the facility could number 400 a day; the current maximum is 270 trips.
Sand and gravel, also called aggregate, are ingredients in concrete and asphalt used to build roads, buildings and other structures.
The aggregate supply in the Twin Cities is dwindling, mainly because many gravel pockets lie beneath developed land. Shipping gravel is expensive, so companies prefer to mine it close to where it’s used.
“These aggregates really are an important part of the local economy,” said Kirsten Pauly of Sunde Engineering, which prepared Mueller’s application.
Mori Willemsen, owner of Mueller — the company that his great-grandfather founded 108 years ago — said in an interview that the actual size of the mines likely won’t reach 35 acres, and that the proposed increase in hours and truck trips are based only on periods of peak demand.
“I will not run away from my neighbors’ concerns, but their concerns have to be realistic, too,” he said. “The natural resource is there; it has to come out. We just have to work together and get it out the most efficient way we can without doing more damage. … The last thing we want to do is irritate our neighbors any more than we do.”
Under the permit requirements, the mines must be at least 500 feet from residential buildings, less than half the distance of the current mine from Falkenstein’s house. Falkenstein calculated the value of his property would drop at least 30%, based on a gravel mine study in Virginia.
“The millions we could be losing in property value are devastating,” he said.
“I stand before all of you today physically ill due to the stress I’ve endured,” said Jon West, who lives next door to Falkenstein. “We moved here to find peace, not to listen to crushing equipment 12 hours a day, six days a week.”
After a brief discussion, the commissioners approved the request.
Commissioner Jim Ische said that the mine owners can use their property in ways neighbors might not like. “If you like that view, buy it,” he said. “You can’t mine gravel where it ain’t.”