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Planning Commission: Thumbs down to Long Lake gravel pit

Gravel was being mined Tuesday afternoon at a Strata Corp. pit just south of Becker County Road 6. Nathan Bowe/Tribune1 / 4
Owners of Long Lake Campsite are among those concerned about a proposed gravel pit on the west side of Long Lake. Nathan Bowe/Tribune2 / 4
A BNSF railway spur serves the Strata gravel pits near Becker County road 6. The same rail spur would serve the proposed new gravel pit closer to Long Lake. Nathan Bowe/Tribune3 / 4
A car speeds past hills of sand stored at a Strata Corp. site north of County Road 6 on Tuesday. Nathan Bowe/Tribune4 / 4

Long Lake residents drew a collective sigh of relief May 8 when the Becker County Planning Commission shot down a proposed new gravel pit near the lake.

The planning commission voted 7-3 to deny a conditional use permit request by Strata Corp. to open a 186-acre gravel extraction site west of Long Lake.

Strata Corp., which operates a large gravel pit and cement plant nearby, wants to add the new pit to its existing system, which is served by a BNSF railway spur.

The meeting lasted several hours and included a PowerPoint presentation by Bill LaFond, business development specialist with Strata.

He said the new pit would extend Strata operations by 18 to 20 years, and the company plans to operate the new pit part-time, just eight to 10 weeks per year for 15 years, avoiding the summer season.

Sight and sound berms will be created, with tree buffers and dust control. The portable crushing plant would move in and out on a seasonal basis. The gravel pit will be depleted by 2037, with over 5 million cubic yards of gravel removed.

He said operations would begin in the southwest, then move east and north, with depleted areas reclaimed each year.

Planning commission member Bob Merritt, a former DNR hydrologist, sparred with LaFond over potential impact to Long Lake. He also took issue with information presented by Jason Kirwin of Environmental Scientific, who presented geological, environmental and hydrology information on behalf of Strata Corp.

Merritt said the groundwater now feeds into Long Lake via 7,000 feet of shoreline from the west. The new mining operation would change the direction of the flow, taking out about 13 percent of that distance and creating a trench. That could drop the lake level, directing flows to the south, he said.

Kirwin said the new operation would not lower the groundwater level and there were no plans to redirect water to a pond and ditch system, which would lower water levels. He said it was not a reasonable expectation that Long Lake water levels would change due to the new pit, and he would have mentioned it in his report if that was the case.

Kirwin and Merritt disagreed in a number of areas, and Chairman Jim Bruflodt eventually said it was time to move on, as everyone had made their point.

About 20 people spoke at the planning commission meeting, with most opposed to granting the conditional use permit.

Those who spoke included Detroit Lakes Mayor Matt Brenk and city attorney Charlie Ramstad, who opposed the project due to its impact on development plans around the lake.

The city annexed the west side of Long Lake in 2015. This year, the city will invest $3.8 million on sewer, water, and road infrastructure to bring sewer and water services to the north end of Long Lake. The city was planning to bring sewer and water to the west side of Long Lake in the next few years, the city said in a letter to the county planning commission.

Brian Bishop, chair of the biology department at Concordia College in Moorhead, said its research and teaching site on Long Lake would be negatively impacted by gravel operations nearby.

Tera Guetter of the Pelican River Watershed District spoke in opposition, as did Long Lake Association President Tom Anderson.

Levi Wold of Long Lake Campsite and Kregg Wolf of Lakecrest Resort voiced their concerns, as did Jamie Deraney, Bob Koshnick, Paul Orth, John Riewer, Lee Kessler, Mike Ring, Steve Menden, Barry Burchill, Jim Wensman, Walt Aanenson, and Mike Herzog.

A project of this scope has the potential for a lawsuit from either side, so the county planning commission will meet at 7 a.m. May 22 to adopt findings of fact recommended by legal counsel for the conditional use permit request from Strata Corp.

The Becker County Board will make the final decision on the conditional use permit at its June 5 meeting.