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Aggregate mining company seeks annexation in Cottage Grove

A sand and gravel mining company in Gray Cloud Island Township that has recently sought to expand wants neighboring Cottage Grove to annex 120 acres of its property, saying the town is more capable than the township of supplying the necessary services.

The request by Aggregate Industries, a subsidiary of Holcim US, will require approval from Cottage Grove City Council and an administrative law judge, with the first hearing scheduled for next month.

“Given the physical development, planning, intended land use and industrial nature of the property, Cottage Grove is much more capable of providing the services required by the property in a reasonable time frame,” said the company in its annexation petition, which was signed by aggregate chief executive Tom Schmit.

The company’s Larson Quarry in Gray Cloud Island Township has been in operation since the 1950s, providing sand and gravel for the construction of roads, bridges, commercial buildings and homes, the spokeswoman said. Holcim, Jacqueline Clark. The company is seeking a partner who “recognizes the potential for unique recreational space and residential development on this property following the completion of mining on the property,” she added.

The land covered by the annexation petition is approximately 14 parcels totaling 119.5 acres owned by Holcim, primarily west of County Road 75.

The company’s request comes about 7 months after Gray Cloud Island Township Council denied two waivers that would have allowed the mine to expand into areas within the township’s 500-foot setback from to adjacent property lines. In one instance, mining activity reportedly approached within 80 feet of an adjoining property, “closer than the Township of Gray Cloud Island has ever permitted mining from adjacent property lines,” according to the council’s denial.

The council said it opposed the deviations because residents were concerned about falling property values, increased noise and vibration from blasting, falling water levels in private shafts, loss of sight lines and loss of trees to the high berms the mining company has built at the edge of the mine.

The municipality benefits from the mine in the form of a tonnage tax. Last year, he contributed about $28,000 to the township of Gray Cloud Island, according to township board member Dick Polta.

If annexation is granted, this would not be Cottage Grove’s first mine. Aggregate operates a second quarry, the Nelson Sand & Gravel Mine, on Lower Gray Cloud Island which is within the city limits. 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 Gray Cloud Island which was dry land before Lock and Dam 2 was built in 1930. The company’s application envisions a floating barge moving through the area in stages over a period of 20 years. In its application, Aggregate said the mine will run out of material in about five years unless it is expanded.

Cottage Grove City Council will hold a public hearing on April 19 to consider the annexation request, gathering public input and testimony before making a decision, city administrator Jennifer Levitt said. If council approves the application, it would be forwarded to an administrative law judge for a final decision. Levitt said she believes this is the first time Cottage Grove has been asked to annex a neighboring property.

Polta said he planned 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 town in its own right, the mining company could still detach its property and apply to incorporate it into Cottage Grove, Polta said.

He does not entirely agree with the argument made by the mining company regarding the need for services: Cottage Grove already provides fire and EMS services to the township, and the Washington County Sheriff enforces the law.

“Grey Cloud Township is the smallest township in the state, so we knew we wouldn’t last forever,” said Polta, who said it was becoming increasingly difficult to sustain the township financially.

The township has shrunk in recent years after at least two annexations, including a 600-acre tract that became part of St. Paul’s Park about 15 years ago. The township fought it off at the time, but ultimately lost, and now spans about 1,900 acres, township clerk Pam Dupre said.

Everyone “sort of expected” more annexations to happen one day as the township progresses, Polta said, but he did not anticipate this possible annexation from the mining company.

Polta said he thinks the mine could last another 15 to 20 years if allowed to operate in areas west of County Road 75 that are currently zoned residential. He said he thinks the annexation request is the mining company’s way of ending the township’s refusal to allow mining expansion.

“They finally had enough,” he said.

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