Planning Commission, Money Creek Township disagree on re-opening shale pit
Tuesday, October 30, 2012 4:51 AM
In spite of protests from a member of the township board, the Houston County Planning Commission recommended approval for a conditional use permit (CUP) in Money Creek Township on Oct. 11.
At issue was a mineral extraction permit allowing material to be removed from a borrow site.
Sought by contractor J.B. Holland on behalf of landowner Dennis Kinstler, the CUP would address the removal of 25,000 to 30,000 cubic yards of fill from an existing shale pit to go towards a bridge replacement/road realignment project on Perkins Valley Drive.
Zoning administrator Bob Scanlan said that he had met with Dale Omodt of the Money Creek Township Board at the borrow site, which lies near the Omodt family cemetery.
"The concern of the township is that the excavation could have a negative impact on the cemetery, especially if (part of) the cemetery grounds exist outside of the existing fence," he reported.
Commissioner Dan Griffin asked Scanlan if the zoning ordinance called for a specific setback requirement for cemeteries, and he was told "no."
Commissioner Bruce Lee asked if "anything might lie outside that fence," and he was referred to neighboring landowner Lucille Omodt-Crow.
"We believe there's at least 40 persons buried there, possibly as many as 60," she stated, adding that the burial ground dates from the 1850s.
"Over the years, the wooden crosses have gone away, so we don't know exactly, but there are certainly graves beyond the fence."
Both the cemetery and the borrow site lie on the triangular-shaped end of a hillside, overlooking lower land to the east and west, commissioners were told.
The borrow pit historically provided material to dress local roads and consists of soft, diggable shale. It has been idle since the 1950s.
"My great-grandmother was the last person buried at the cemetery, in 1911," Omodt-Crow stated. "In 1959 a small portion of it was fenced. The fence is a fairly arbitrary line.
"My concerns are the size of the trucks, the amount of shale they'll be moving and wear and tear on a fragile, eroded bank," she told the board.
"I moved to the farm in 1965," Kinstler stated. "I've been concerned about it (the cemetery) for a long time. I suggested to them (the contractor) that they move that road out into the field. I have not seen any feet sticking out, but it has been a concern of mine."
Kinstler added that Holland had agreed to place some extra soil along the eroded embankment.
"We don't want to create problems or disturb historically significant areas," contractor Bill Holland said. "Our plan is to start at the approximate location that the current borrow is at and work away from the cemetery. We have no intention to come back closer to it than what has already been taken out.
"The plan is to stay at the level, or slightly deeper than the current level of the pit. We'd like to approach the hillside from the other side (away from the cemetery) to avoid a tight corner. This is a one-time use for the county road project."
"Unfortunately, the township was never approached on this," Dale Omodt said. "There is another borrow pit to the east that they could have used, which would have been a much better choice, both from the standpoint of the cemetery and wear and tear on the road. It doesn't make sense to us as a (township) board to haul 1,600 loads of material down Perkins Valley Road when you could come in from the east, and all you'd need to do is cross the road, not drive down it.
"We made up our mind as a board. We're asking you to deny it," Omodt firmly stated.
Holland said that denial at this point would represent difficulties as far as the work schedule, which calls for construction to begin immediately after the county board approves the CUP, before it then ceases for winter. The road must then be left open for traffic until construction finishes up in the spring, he said.
Commissioner Glenn Kruse asked Omodt if the county's engineering plans went to the township.
He said that paperwork for the project was reviewed, but the borrow site wasn't given much attention in the documents.
Several commissioners noted that they could only rule on the permit as it stands, not change it to include a different borrow site.
Omodt-Crow asked that the reclamation plan include enough black dirt to make plantings on the three-acre site take hold. Currently, the plan just calls for the replacement of existing soils, which are thin, she said.
Commissioner Justin Zmyewski made a motion to deny the permit based upon township opposition; seconded by Commissioner Dan Griffin, it failed 5-2.
Commissioner Terry Rosendahl then made a motion to approve the CUP with the following conditions: All state, federal and local permits and statutes must be obtained and followed; the contractor will only work away from the cemetery; black dirt from the site will be saved and replaced; the site will be seeded with an 18 percent slope (or less) maintained; and the roadway (Perkins Valley) will be maintained in the condition it is in.
It passed 5-2, with Griffin and Zmyewski voting no. The CUP was scheduled to go to the county board for approval on Oct. 23.
In other news, commissioners recommended approval for a CUP for Randy Roemer of Black Hammer Township to build a cabin in an agricultural district.
Two annual CUPs were also recommended for approval. They were both for temporary agricultural housing with the first for Fred Sandvik of Old Hickory Orchards and the second for Dan Van Lin of Van Lin Orchards. Both operations are from La Crescent.
Six zoning permits were also approved. They encompassed a pair of barn additions, two pole sheds, a trailer to replace a home, two garages, a wood shed and a lean-to.