Board denies gravel pit north of Milaca

With board chair Jack Edmonds casting the only dissenting vote, Mille Lacs County commissioners voted 4-1 at their May 1 meeting to turn down a request by Knife River Corp. to expand use of a gravel pit.

Knife River had asked that a conditional use permit (CUP) issued in 2008 be amended to allow unlimited days of crushing at the pit.

The pit is known as the Gardner Pit and is located on the border between Page and Hayland townships about four miles north of Milaca.

The request was on the April 9 agenda of the Mille Lacs County Planning Commission and was forwarded to county commissioners on a 4-3 vote for approval, with a recommendation to go from 20 days of crushing a year to 45.

Ron Klinker, environmental manager for Knife River, told the planning commission that 20 days wouldn’t be sufficient to remain flexible to meet market demands.

Klinker said he would be willing to exchange shorter working days for more working days, but that he wasn’t asking for unlimited hours of crushing gravel.

Eight residents who are neighbors to the pit testified at the planning commission’s public hearing that they had concerns about noise and dust.

After discussion by commission members, a motion was made by Ray Schultz, and seconded by Bob Hoefert, to approve an amendment to the 2008 CUP to allow 45 days for crushing.

The motion included two conditions. They were that crushing occur only Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and that Knife River provide seven days written notice to the county prior to the commencement of crushing.

The motion passed on a 4-3 vote with Schultz, Hoefert, John Roxbury Jr. and Larry Ziebarth voting in favor, and Paula Soderberg, LaVonne Ziegler and Randy Murrah voting against.

When county commissioners began discussing the request at their meeting last week, Commissioner Roger Tellinghuisen said he had a problem with the 45-day window instead of 20.

“I’d be annoyed if I had to listen on Saturdays,” he said.

Many questions followed from commissioners, Commissioner Dan Whitcomb noting that Knife River hadn’t asked for the specific change to 45 days.

Michele McPherson, director of the county’s Land Services Office, said it is not unusual for the planning commission to change a request, noting that commissioners had talked about 60 before deciding on 45.

“I got called,” said Commissioner Phil Peterson. “Folks were quite disturbed at how it played out.”

Peterson reported the callers said they didn’t get a chance to respond after the public hearing.

“The planning commission is not serving the needs of residents,” he said. “They’re not listening to the public enough.”

Commissioner Tellinghuisen drew a laugh from board members and those in the audience when he noted that “crushing rocks makes a lot more noise than crushing bones.” (Earlier in the meeting the board had approved a interim use permit for a chiropractic office to be operated from a home in Milaca Township.)

Peterson said he thought 45 days was totally out of line.

That’s when Edmonds said he disagreed.

“You don’t have the right to not have noise around you,” he said, noting that he lives in the city of Princeton and is sometimes awakened at 3 a.m. by a medical helicopter as it lands at the hospital there.

Gravel crushing is a big business in Mille Lacs County, Edmonds said, and the county should be more receptive to such requests.

After Tellinghuisen made a motion to deny the request, with Whitcomb seconding, Edmonds asked if it was normal procedure for those attending a planning commission meeting to not to have a chance to respond after a public hearing was closed.

“Yes,” answered Peterson, “but they should still have had a chance to respond.

Peterson then called for a vote and the motion passed with Peterson, Whitcomb, Tellinghuisen and Frank Courteau voting in favor.