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Conditional use permit approved for quarry in Big Stone County, Minn.

ORTONVILLE -- The Big Stone County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a conditional use permit Tuesday for a controversial quarry project on the edge of the Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge.

The vote on Tuesday morning provides a conditional use permit to Strata Corporation of Grand Forks, N.D., to develop a 104-acre quarry on a 478-acre property in Ortonville Township.

The property consists of granite outcrops and pasture and is host to nine different species of rare and endangered plants.

The township and neighboring citizens have opposed the project. The township adopted a one-year moratorium on development in February to block the project.

Before taking their vote, the county commissioners said Strata Corporation had met all of the requirements of the county's permit process. Representatives of the company, and an overflow crowd of opponents, watched the vote.

"We really feel the county commissioners have let us down,'' said Duane Ninneman, a Big Stone County resident and one of the project opponents with Clean Up our River Environment.

Ninneman said none of the issues raised by the opponents -- ranging from concerns about harm to property values, noise and dust emissions and future development in the area -- were addressed by the commissioners. The vote also comes without an agreement between Strata Corporation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on a proposal by the company to set aside 59 acres of the site to protect some of the rare plants.

Ninneman said the citizens were confident that one, and possibly two of the commissioners, were planning to vote against the project, which would have stopped it under the county's requirement for a supermajority to approve it.

Ortonville Township has until next February to enact its own stricter permit process for quarry operations. Ninneman said they are concerned that the company will take advantage of its greater financial resources to challenge the township, but that the township and residents remain committed.

The company has pledged to mitigate environmental damage as much as possible. It projects a greater-than-100-year life span for the quarry, which would provide aggregate for construction and road building use.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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