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Mitigation a part of their Big Stone Co. quarry plan, Grand Forks (N.D.) quarry developer says

Rusty Dinberg, an Ortonville Township supervisor and farmer, is an opponent of the quarry, saying there are plenty of other aggregate resources available where scenic landscapes are not at risk. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

CLINTON -- While plans for a quarry in Big Stone County have some concerned about the environmental impact, the developer says it is committed to mitigating any damage.

Strata Corporation of Grand Forks, N.D., is proposing to develop a 104-acre quarry on a 478-acre property on the edge of the Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge.

That area of western Minnesota is already home to two large quarry operations. The Cold Spring quarry opened originally as a dimensional stone quarry but now crushes granite for aggregate. The larger, L.G. Everest quarry is located adjacent to the proposed Strata Corporation site and also mines the outcrop for aggregate.

The equivalent of 21,000 tons of aggregate is mined annually for each person in Minnesota to build roads, buildings, flood protection and other infrastructure. There is a growing shortage of quality aggregate for infrastructure needs in the Twin Cities.

Strata Corporation has been searching for sites all across Minnesota, western Wisconsin and eastern Iowa to serve that need for six years. The search included more than 100 sites, but was narrowed down to this site after extensive research, according to Bill LaFond, project manager with Strata.

Strata Corporation is committed to mitigating the damage that aggregate mining will cause as much as possible, said LaFond. It understands the conflicting needs of protecting our resources and building our infrastructure.

"At this point in time we have to develop our natural resources in a wise fashion,'' LaFond said in a telephone interview.

Prior to applying for its conditional use permit from Big Stone County, Strata conducted an extensive study of the site that included identifying more than 20,000 of the rare ball cactus plants in the area. Quarry operations would take 130 ball cacti, he said.

Strata has offered to place 59 acres in a protected parcel for the plants. It offered the parcel to the nearby Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge, which declined it. The parcel's jagged boundary and lack of a buffer means a high likelihood that dust from operations would adversely affect the protected plants, according to refuge officials.

The world is made of rock, but much of it is covered by glacial till. The glacial river that carved the Minnesota River Valley scoured away the glacial till and made the high-quality, granite bedrock accessible in an economical way for mining. This site is also adjacent to a Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad line, a major factor in the decision to develop the site, according to LaFond.

Strata intends to develop the quarry in three phases over a projected life span of 130 years. The first of three quarry sites would be located the farthest from the refuge and from the home and cattle operation of the Clark Mastel family. The rock would be crushed and conveyed directly to unit trains to minimize trucking and other noise and dust-generating activity. There is ample water available for dust suppression. Micro-second, timed-blasting practices also reduce the disruption that quarry operations can cause.

Gayle Hedge owns this 478-acre site and now leases it to Strata. Hedge, who is soon to be 78, said he rejected another mining company. He was assured by Strata that it would do all it could to minimize disruption and accommodate Mastel's livestock operation.

Hedge is a lifelong farmer and successful businessman with a trucking company and other operations in the Ortonville area. He said he was motivated by a desire for economic development in the county. He's seen too many young people leave the area for lack of opportunity.

He's well-aware of the opposition that has developed, but said there are also a lot of people who support it.

Others feel that there is too much to lose. Rusty Dinberg, an Ortonville Township supervisor and farmer who grew up near the site, said there are plenty of other aggregate resources available where unique and scenic landscapes are not at risk.

He vows to protect the site. "It's something that I have been with all my life and I want it to be here after I leave, when I'm dead and gone.''

Tom Cherveny

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

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