Mine Friend or Mine Enemy: The Perspectives of Citizens and Edward Kraemer Mining Company on the Proposed Mine in Waterford Township
I chose to examine the aggregate mine proposed for the fall of 2001 in Waterford Township, about five miles north of Northfield. If approved by Waterford Township, limestone and dolomite in a 610-acre site will be mined during a 111 year period. Kraemer and Sons plans to mine to a depth of 190 feet in the Prairie du Chien aquifer, only 50 feet above the Jordan Sandstone aquifer, which supplies water for millions of people in Dakota and Rice counties and the Twin Cities metropolitan area. This mine has become a hotly debated topic throughout Dakota and Rice county, primarily because the expected effects of the mine vary greatly depending on whom you ask. The question I posed for my study was an examination of the differences between what Ed Kraemer and Sons describe as the possible results of the mine, and the potential effects that concern local citizens, expressed by such groups as POWER (Protect Our Waters and Environmental Resources) and the Cannon River Watershed Partnership.
This is an important issue because the potential effects of the mine are far-reaching and uncertain. The citizens' primary concern is that the quarry will harm the area's water in various ways that may not be obvious now, but will heavily impact generations to come. In order to reach limestone and dolomite, Ed Kraemer and Sons must de-water the Prairie du Chien aquifer by pumping out millions of gallons of water each day. Kraemer and Sons estimate that they would de-water 10 million gallons every day, yet reports from the Department of Natural Resources indicate that the reality could be much more: up to 28.8 million gallons per day. As a point of reference, Northfield uses about 2 million gallons each day, and Burnsville averages 5.5 million gallons per day. Thus, the mining operation's impact on the area's water supply would be considerable. In addition to de-watering the area and lowering the water table, which both parties agree would be a result of the proposed mine, other potential issues have been raised.
Ed Kraemer and Sons claim to be environmentally conscious miners, and assert that their enterprise will not have widespread negative effects. Yet citizens have expressed concern about the ecological effects of the proposed mine: water drawdown may jeopardize future water availability, the possibility of groundwater contamination, the effects that lowering the water table will have on agriculture, drying up portions of the Cannon River and Chub Creek (as well as the effects that re-watering these rivers with water extracted from the quarry will have on river flow), and the elimination of wetlands and wildlife in the area are all worrisome issues. Residents of Waterford Township, Northfield, and the surrounding area have also questioned the impact the mine may have on their quality of life. Kraemer relates that at peak mine operation in 20 years, 1050 truck loads carrying 20-40 tons of crushed limestone and dolomite would travel north on Highway 3 to Dakota County, on 86 west through Castle Rock, on Highway 3 north through Farmington and Rosemount, or South on Highway 3 through Northfield. This would cause more traffic, unsafe circumstances for pedestrians, and the roads would be destroyed much faster, causing a greater burden on taxpayers which Kraemer and Sons, as an aggregate company, would benefit from.
My project addresses water availability, pollution, resource extraction, and urban sprawl issues that we discussed in our course. As I stated above, the de-watering of the Prairie du Chien aquifer will severely deplete the area's water supply. This will only contribute to the scarcity of fresh water globally in the future that we discussed in class. From the disturbing stories we read of mine tailings that left rivers in California with the acidity of a car battery 35 years after the mine closed, to the effects chemical pollution had in Niagara and the Erie Canal, we have seen that humans have had major impacts on America's waterways. In addition, the topic of resource extraction and processing was a central theme of the course. We discussed forestry, fossil fuels, and mining, examining the effects these have on the environment. Although the proposed mine in Waterford Township will extract limestone and dolomite, which seems less dramatic than chopping down trees or drilling for oil, aggregate is still a finite resource that America is quickly losing. We also discussed the problem of urban sprawl, which is directly relevant to the issue of aggregate mining: as cities expand into suburbs and people must commute, there is an increasing demand for aggregate, which is primarily used to build highways, as well as bridges, schools, and residential and commercial buildings.
People should care about the issue that I examined because it will directly affect students and staff at Carleton and St. Olaf colleges, residents of the surrounding community, and people living in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. It is in the best interest of each of these groups to become knowledgeable about where their water comes from, whether it is being contaminated, and if it will be available for their children and grandchildren in the future. Although this does not mean that everyone must oppose the mine, residents should become informed about the mine's possible impacts both to protect themselves, and so that Waterford Township can make an educated decision about whether to allow the mine into their community. In addition, area residents should care about the possibility of increased traffic congestion, noise and air pollution that the mine could create. Joggers, walkers, and bikers who frequently cross highway 3 should care about the greater risk to pedestrians which the mine's truck traffic could produce. Outdoor enthusiasts such as hikers, fishermen, hunters, and nature lovers ought to be concerned about the effects the mine may have on the Cannon River and Chub Creek, as well as the loss of wildlife both around the mine and in the nearby Carleton Arboretum. The goals of my research were to determine the major impacts that the proposed mine will have from the perspective of Ed Kraemer and Sons, and from the point of view of civic environmental groups. My second objective was to present both sides in poster format, to be used by the Cannon River Watershed Group as a display for several of their upcoming events. The final aim of my research was to present my findings in a letter to the editor of the Northfield news, as part of the continuing debate that has been raging in local newspapers over the proposed mine. As most of the letters to the editor that I read expressed the opinion of older people, I hoped to present my ideas from the unique perspective of a young person whose children and grandchildren will be the ones most affected by the Waterford mine.
Methods and Research
I became involved in my project in a somewhat circuitous way. Initially planning on studying the Cannon River, I went to the State of the Rivers Conference, a meeting of the leaders of the state's river protection groups. I learned some interesting things about developing a plan for sustainable rivers, monitoring river quality, starting a grassroots environmental organization, and generating support for that group. At the Council I met Allene Moesler, the executive director of the Cannon River Watershed Partnership. When I asked Ms. Moesler how I could become involved with her group, she told me that they needed a format to publicize information about the proposed mine at meetings attended by the CRWP. We agreed that because of widespread disagreement regarding the mine's effects, a poster detailing the differences would be ideal.
Ms. Moesler sent me maps showing the proposed impacts of the mine, as depicted by Jim Berg of the DNR. I accessed Ed Kraemer and Sons' webpage, which details the proposal process and also includes newspaper articles in support of, and against the mine, as well as Kraemer's responses. This webpage is very informative, containing the Waterford Township Draft Preliminary Environmental Assessment Worksheet, a form that must be filled out by the township as part of Kraemer and Sons' application for a conditional use permit, as well as a glossary defining the terms used therein. Kraemer and Sons' webpage also includes an extensive briefing kit describing what they propose to build, what they view as the mine's environmental impacts, why they selected the site, answers to questions posed by residents, and more. This webpage is where I gained my information on the perspective of the mining company on their proposal.
Kraemer and Sons' webpage was also useful in gaining the viewpoint of local residents, because they posted many letters to the editor written about the mine, including those adamantly against it. I also contacted Elaine Dack of Protect Our Water and Environmental Resources (POWER). We discussed her group's major concerns, and she sent me articles and studies done by POWER related to the proposed mine. POWER's literature primarily provided the point of view of citizens concerned about the health and water of their community. It included statistics that they believed Kraemer and Sons had purposely ignored, understated, or lied about. I also contacted Carleton Geology Professor Mary Savina, who has been involved in this issue, for some geological background on the area, and the perspective of a geologist on the mine.
I have already mentioned that POWER and the Cannon River Watershed Partnership are currently active on this issue, and that I am involved in providing a poster for the CRWP and writing a letter to the editor on behalf of POWER. POWER is primarily active in finding and disseminating information to the public about the proposed mine. They do this by holding meetings, speaking at city councils, and writing letters to local papers. The CRWP is engaged in cleaning and monitoring the Cannon River. They are involved in this issue because the mine may alter the River's flow by de-watering the Cannon and Chub Creek in some areas, and re-watering them in others, causing the river alternately to dry up and flood. Another group involved is the MN Aggregate Task Force. This group is composed of people representing the full spectrum of aggregate interests: a geologist, an engineer, a miner, a prairie specialist, DNR staff, county, city, and township representatives in areas affected, etc. Among other duties, the task force works to find sources of aggregate, monitor mining methods, and search for technologies to increase the use of recycled aggregate. I did not contact the Task Force as of yet. I did read the findings of their new report regarding the state of the aggregate business in Minnesota. I am considering sending my findings to the Task Force, as they request citizen's input. Going into my project I had the preconceived notion that the mine would have a negative impact on Northfield and should be stopped. This probably stemmed from Ms. Moesler's reason for me to become involved: warn the people about this mine. POWER's literature supported this view. Kraemer and Sons' webpage was, however, rather persuasive. The corporation effectively presents itself as an environmental steward and a positive addition to any community. Discussing the issue with Prof. Mary Savina, who feels that the major issue is whether the Prairie Du Chien aquifer is connected to the Jordan Sandstone aquifer, further complicated my thoughts. Currently, this is unknown, yet Kraemer and Sons assumes it is not connected, and POWER assumes that it is. The assumptions and limitations of my approach hinge on issues like this one: all of my information comes from groups trying to prove that they are correct, in many cases by denying or criticizing the others' opinion. Another limitation is that no one can know with certainty just what the actual effects of the mine will be.
I found an extremely large amount of data expressing the position of both the miners and the environmental groups. In the interest of brevity, I will focus on the issues that generated the most disagreement between the two sides, namely the possible effects on water supply and quality, on wetlands and wildlife, and on quality of life conditions. As stated above, Kraemer and Sons estimates that they will de-water 10 million gallons daily, while the DNR suggests the actual result could be as high as 28.8 million gallons per day. POWER brings up issues of water contamination, citing the Prairie du Chien karst limestone formation as highly susceptible to environmental degradation. Geology professor Mary Savina described this karst topography as large, irregular fractures that formed in the limestone as a result of solution, or acidic rainwater, reacting with the rock. These fractures provide spaces for water to flow through extremely quickly, and it is difficult to predict which route the water will take. This situation will make the pumping rates of the mine difficult to predict. In addition, the most crucial issue is whether these karst fractures are stopped by a barrier above the Jordan Sandstone, or if they continue down into the sandstone. No conclusive data has been found to establish whether the Prairie du Chien's fractures are connected with the Jordan. Currently, Kraemer and Sons claims that no connection exists, while POWER has suggested this as a possibility. If the formations are connected, the deep wells in the Jordan that supply many with water may become polluted or de-watered. Professor Savina recommends that Kraemer should have to conduct drilling and pump tests on the wells to determine whether the layers are indeed connected.
In addition, de-watering the Prairie du Chien aquifer will lower the water table and may ultimately dewater the Jordan aquifer as well. Many local residents' wells are drilled only into the Prairie du Chien aquifer, even Kraemer and Sons has conceded will probably be affected. They recommend drilling new wells into the Jordan aquifer instead. Although Kraemer and Sons has offered to provide partial compensation for this, it will undoubtedly be a burden and expense to those affected. Lowering the water table could also harm local agriculture. In times of drought, crops are often saved by drawing on the high groundwater. If the water table were lowered, this would not be a possibility and droughts could be much more severe.
Another hotly debated issue is what effect the mine will have on the Cannon River and Chub Creek as well as adjacent wetlands and local wildlife. Kraemer and Sons claim that the water they remove from the Prairie du Chien aquifer and intend to release into Chub Creek, which empties into the Cannon, "will be cold, clean, and free of sediment. The water produced during processing operations will be sent through a series of settling basins to remove suspended solids. Excess water will be routed to the pump and discharged. The amount of suspended solids in discharge water will be regulated by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The discharge is expected to contain less than 60 p.p.m. suspended solids."(Kraemer and Sons Briefing Kit) Yet POWER questions that adequate time will be allowed for suspended solids to settle before the water is discharged into Chub Creek, with the extremely quick and unpredictable flow at which water will be removed from the quarry. POWER also expresses serious concerns about the ability of Chub Creek to handle this incredible volume of water when spring thaws and heavy rains already cause flooding. Erosion of Chub Creek's walls is also a concern.
While Kraemer claims that the mine will in fact encourage wildlife in the area, as a result of building burms with trees and shrubs around the mine, POWER has stated that the resident wildlife will be frightened away by the noise and activity disrupting their habitat. It has also been suggested that quarry discharge may affect the fish resources of Chub Creek, the Cannon River, and Lake Byllesby. Two varieties of endangered mussel living in Chub Creek would also be at risk.
Another key concern of citizens is the increased truck traffic on local roads, and the higher taxes required to repair damage caused by the mine's trucks. Kraemer and Sons claims that the property taxes they are required to pay will cover these expenses, yet area residents are skeptical. The miners must pay only 7 cents per ton they remove from the quarry, an infinitesimal amount compared to the cost of fixing damaged roads. Northfield residents have also pointed out that any money Kraemer and Sons pay in taxes for roads will go only to Dakota County where the proposed mine would be, even though equal damage will occur on Rice County roads, such as Highway 3 in Northfield.
Residents have also expressed fears about hazardous dust from the quarry. Kraemer and Sons say that they will use the latest technologies, including watering the mine's roads, enforcing a 10 m.p.h. speed limit within the quarry, building berms, and planting trees to contain dust. Yet silica particles released from mined limestone are proven carcinogens, a major risk for those living nearby. Although there are many other discrepancies between the two groups, the above are particularly central to the mine debate.
Recommendations and Conclusion
I recommend that the proposed mine be rejected by Waterford Township. The possible effects on the Cannon River, Chub Creek, wetlands, wildlife, and quality of life are prohibitively severe. It has also been suggested that allowing this company into the community will encourage the development of other manufacturing and big business companies in the area, which most residents do not desire. The costs of the proposed mine would rest heavily on the shoulders of local residents, while the benefits would be reserved primarily for Kraemer and Sons and the two families who have agreed to sell their land for the quarry. Before making any decisions regarding the proposed mine, I suggest that drilling and pump tests should be conducted immediately to establish whether connectivity exists between the Prairie du Chien aquifer and the Jordan aquifer. On their webpage, Kraemer and Sons sidestepped many resident's questions by saying they would be answered once the EIS report was conducted. I recommend that once this report is finished, it should be disseminated to residents. Groups such as POWER and the CRWP are effectively spreading knowledge about the differences between Kraemer's view of the mine's effects and the results that they have found. I anticipate my continuing involvement in this issue, and related concerns of POWER and the CRWP as a result of my involvement with these groups. Elaine Dack has already contacted me about Waterford Township's first public meeting to discuss the mine, which I plan to attend. This project impacted my learning by opening my eyes to the process behind a mining operation, as well as the widespread need for aggregate resources. It also gave me greater insight into groups such as POWER and the CRWP, and the crucial need for citizen involvement in issues such as this one.