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Russ and Mary Colson stand in front of their farmlands on Tuesday, July 26, 2016, north of Hawley, Minn. The cornfield line behind them is the proposed site of a new road for a gravel mine expansion just north of their property. If the road is built, the Colsons will be hemmed in by roads plied by gravel trucks on three sides.Matt Hellman / The Forum

Clay County residents brace for '10 years of noise' as contested gravel mine gets OK

HAWLEY, Minn.—Russ and Mary Colson knew their rural home was located near a gravel mine when they bought the place more than 20 years ago.

But they never expected a new road would be built near their property to accommodate a new gravel mine—a prospect that means they will have roads rumbling with fleets of gravel trucks almost all around their home 10 miles north of here.

"Our property becomes a postage stamp with trucks hauling on three sides," Mary Colson said. "This is not a fair and balanced land use."

The Colsons and their neighbors contend that the additional gravel truck traffic—estimates range from 480 to 1,440 more truck trips per week—pose significant health and safety risks.

Much of that traffic, they say, will be on a narrow gravel road that wasn't designed to carry a large volume of heavy trucks. In a rural area that already has lots of lumbering gravel trucks, the additional truck traffic will increase the likelihood of accidents, the Colsons and their neighbors said.

So far, those arguments have failed to persuade Clay County officials.

The Clay County Planning Commission, in a process the Colsons contend was unfair, approved a permit for the new gravel mine, which would be located near existing gravel operations north of the Colsons.

The Planning Commission held a hearing for the proposed gravel mine, planned by Hough, Inc., of Detroit Lakes, on May 17. During the hearing, the Colsons and their neighbors argued against approving the mine.

After a motion to deny the permit was defeated, planning commissioners closed the hearing and tabled the proposal. The permit resurfaced at the Planning Commission's June 21 meeting—without a public notice advertisement, because the hearing once had been closed, said Tim Magnusson, the county's planning director.

In the June meeting, with the Colsons and their neighbors absent, the Planning Commission reopened the public hearing, accepting testimony from the family that owns the land for the gravel mine.

Commissioners then unanimously approved the gravel mine, imposing a list of conditions. The Colsons appealed, arguing their arguments weren't given equal consideration.

"We clearly needed to be there to argue our point of view," Mary Colson told Clay County Commissioners, who heard the Colsons' appeal on Tuesday, July 26. She stressed that her opposition was not to the mine itself, but to a new road that would run near her home.

Douglas Murch, a lawyer representing the owners of the land for the proposed mine and road, said other possible roads had been explored, but landowners declined to come to terms, leaving the road near the Colsons as the only option.

"The problem is we're landlocked," Murch told commissioners. The Colsons' home, he said, was about 600 feet from a county road and 750 feet from the planned access road, meeting county setback requirements.

Mike Hough, proprietor of Hough, Inc., said he would control dust with a chloride spray and will rebuild a section of road so it can handle trucks hauling gravel from the mine. He estimated the mine would generate $450,000 in revenue for the county and Gooseberry Township over the expected 10- to 15-year life of the mine.

Kirsten Bates, a neighbor of the Colsons, said visibility already is poor at the intersection of Highway 33 and 120th Avenue North, near the planned access road, and she has almost been in an accident.

"The likelihood of a serious accident is likely," she said, echoing other neighbors' comments

After hearing the appeal Tuesday, the Clay County Commission approved the new gravel mine, limiting the length of the permit to 10 years.

Marsha Ramstad, who owns the land for the mine along with her sisters, said the reopened hearing, at which they made a presentation, was not an attempt to bypass the neighbors.

"We didn't try to pull a fast one on anybody," she said, adding that tenants on the land are "fine with this."

Jerry Mongeau, a county commissioner who also serves on the Planning Commission, said Hough has honestly tried to address neighbors' concerns. Because other possible routes have been blocked, the access road that would run near the Colsons is the only option, she said.

Upholding the Planning Commission, the Clay County Commission voted 4-1 to grant the permit, limiting the permit to 10 years. Commissioner Wayne Ingersoll was the lone dissenter.

Colson was not comforted by the time limitation for the gravel mine permit.

"It's still 10 years of noise," she said, noting that trucks often line up before 6 a.m. and run until 8 p.m.

Before it can operate, however, the Hough gravel mine needs permission from the three-member Gooseberry Township Board to use part of 120th Avenue North, a township road.

The neighbors believe county officials approved the permit in part because of the revenue the gravel mine will bring, and did not give equal weight to their complaints about noise, dust and traffic safety.

"Those intangibles are never part of the equation," she said. "It's just very, very frustrating."

Patrick Springer

Patrick Springer first joined the reporting staff of The Forum in 1985. He can be reached by calling 701-241-5522. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to letters@forumcomm.com

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