A sand and gravel mining company in Grey Cloud Island Township that recently has sought to expand wants next-door neighbor Cottage Grove to annex 120 acres of its property, saying the city is more capable of providing needed services.
The request from Aggregate Industries, a subsidiary of Holcim US, will require approval from the Cottage Grove City Council and an administrative law judge, with the first hearing expected next month.
"Given physical development, planning, intended land use and the industrial nature of the property, Cottage Grove is much more capable of providing the services required by the property within a reasonable time," the company stated in its petition for annexation, which was signed by Aggregate General Manager Tom Schmit.
The company's Larson Quarry in Grey Cloud Island Township has been in operation since the 1950s, providing sand and gravel for the construction of roads, bridges, commercial buildings and homes, said Holcim spokesperson Jacqueline Clark. The company wants a partner who "recognizes the potential for unique recreational space and residential development on this property after mining of the property is completed," she added.
The land covered by the annexation request is some 14 parcels totaling 119.5 acres that Holcim owns, mostly to the west of County Road 75.
The company's request comes about seven months after the Grey Cloud Island Township Board denied two variances that would have allowed the mine to expand into areas within the township's 500-foot setback from adjoining property lines. In one case, mine activity would have come as close as 80 feet to a neighboring property, "closer than Grey Cloud Island Township has ever allowed mining to take place from adjoining property lines," according to the board.
The board said it opposed the variances because residents were worried about lower property values, increased noise and vibrations from blasting, falling water levels in private wells, loss of visual sightlines and losing trees to tall berms the mining company built at the mine's edge.
The township benefits from the mine in the form of a tonnage tax. Last year it paid about $28,000 to Grey Cloud Island Township, according to Township Board Member Dick Polta.
If the annexation is granted, it wouldn't be the first mine in Cottage Grove. Aggregate operates a second quarry, the Nelson Sand & Gravel, on Lower Grey Cloud Island that sits within city borders.
There's an ongoing discussion between mine officials and Cottage Grove about expanding the Nelson mine. Aggregate applied last year to expand into a back channel of the Mississippi River, cutting into 230 acres of riverbed south of Lower Grey Cloud Island that was dry land before Lock and Dam 2 was built in 1930. The company's application envisions a floating barge moving across the area in stages over a 20-year period. In its application, Aggregate said the mine will run out of material in about five years unless it's expanded.
The Cottage Grove City Council will hold a public hearing April 19 to consider the annexation request, taking public comment and testimony before making a decision, said City Administrator Jennifer Levitt. If the council approves the request, it would go to an administrative law judge for a final decision. Levitt said she believes it's the first time Cottage Grove has been asked to annex neighboring property.
Township official Polta said he plans to attend the public hearing and oppose the annexation, which he called unfair. The township has very little say in the annexation process, he said. Even if the township incorporated and became a city of its own, the mining company still could detach its property and apply to make it part of Cottage Grove, Polta said..
He doesn't fully buy the argument the mining company has put forward about the need for services: Cottage Grove already provides fire department and EMS services to the township, and the Washington County Sheriff provides law enforcement.
"Grey Cloud Township is the smallest township in the state, so we knew that we wouldn't last forever," said Polta, who said it gets harder and harder to maintain the township financially.
The township has shrunk in recent years after at least two annexations, including a 600-acre parcel that became part of St. Paul Park about 15 years ago. The township fought it at the time, but ultimately lost, and now stands at about 1,900 acres, said township clerk Pam Dupre.
Everyone "sort of expected" that more annexations might happen someday as the township struggles forward, Polta said, but he didn't anticipate this possible annexation from the mining company.
Polta said he thinks the mine could last another 15 to 20 years if it was allowed to operate in areas west of County Road 75 that are now zoned residential. He said he thinks the annexation request is the mining company's way of doing an end-run on the township's refusal to allow mining to expand.
"They finally had enough," he said.