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Court upholds Renville County, Minn., EAW requirement for gravel mine expansion

OLIVIA -- The Minnesota Court of Appeals has upheld a decision by the Renville County Board of Commissioners requiring an environmental assessment worksheet to expand a gravel mining operation beyond 40 acres.

The Court of Appeals ruled in the county's favor on April 15. The board of commissioners learned Tuesday that Duininck Inc. of Prinsburg will not appeal the decision.

Duininck's Inc. had sought a permit in 2012 to expand its existing Molenaar Pit in Sacred Heart Township from 39 acres to 44 acres. It argued that an environmental assessment worksheet should not be required since it was expanding an existing operation.

The county argued that state law requires the worksheet when the 40-acre threshold is reached.

An environmental assessment worksheet is a questionnaire about a project's environmental setting, potential for environmental harm and plans to reduce the harm. It is used as a screening tool to determine whether a more in-depth -- and more costly -- environmental impact statement is needed.

The court agreed with the county's position that the worksheet is required. In an unpublished opinion, the court stated that the state requirement is a reference "to the physical activity to be undertaken.'' It is not in reference to the "governmental process of approving the project.''

The company had also argued that the expansion was "a phased action," and that Renville County should take this into consideration when determining whether to require an environmental assessment.

The court noted that minutes of the board meeting indicate the commissioners considered this to be an expansion over 40 acres, and that is the relevant fact in this case.

When the county voted to require the environmental assessment worksheet, the company applied for and received a permit to continue mining operations on 39 acres.

Tom Cherveny

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

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