County tables action on gravel plan

The Carlton County Board Room was full to overflowing on Tuesday, as what looked to be the majority of the population of Olsonville showed up for the morning board meeting. Their apparent intent - to express their opposition to a proposed conditi...

The Carlton County Board Room was full to overflowing on Tuesday, as what looked to be the majority of the population of Olsonville showed up for the morning board meeting. Their apparent intent - to express their opposition to a proposed conditional use permit that would enable a gravel removal project on county-owned land adjacent to their neighborhood.

Though the board ultimately voted to table the issue for further discussion and then reconsider it at their Sept. 24 meeting, it was not without considerable tension mounting between commissioners and audience members.

Much of the same group reportedly attended a July 11 public hearing on the matter, and some were also in attendance at a tour of the property in quetion and/or the Aug. 1 meeting of the county planning commission. Since this week's discussion was not intended to solicit public input, however, the group was forced to confine its remarks to a few disconcerted rumblings - along with the prominent display of a family photo by resident Tara Hietala, who asked commissioners to "keep them in mind" while deciding whether to permit gravel extraction activity near their neighborhood. Olsonville is a residential neighborhood located just south of Highway 210 along Old Highway 61.

The recommendation of the planning commission was to deny the conditional use permit that would allow the Carlton County Department of Transportation to extract some 500,000 yards of gravel from a mound which reportedly stands in the way of proposed future economic development on the 225 acres of surrounding county-owned land in Twin Lakes Township. The stated reasons for the denial included: Government should not be involved in economic development; government should not be in competition with private enterprise in selling gravel; and the comprehensive land use plan for the property has not been completed.

In response to the recommendation to deny the conditional use permit, Commissioner Ted Pihlman charged, "This was not a planning commission recommendation. The chairman had his own personal opinion about what's right and what's wrong."


Though there was only one dissenting vote on the recommendation at the planning commission meeting (from member Tom Hill), Pihlman said "there was not a single concern brought up by the people who were there" (about the gravel mining proposal).

Commissioner Mel Tan also expressed puzzlement over the sudden rash of disapproval on behalf of the Olsonville residents.

"I was confused by comments made by some of them in this morning's paper," stated Tan.

An article in the Tuesday Duluth News Tribune stated that Olsonville residents claim they fear noise pollution, air pollution, declining property values and threats to the health and well being of the residents. Hietala charged that the proposed road into the area would cross, and possibly damage, water and sewer lines that serve the neighborhood, though commissioners stated none of the proposed routes run through the residential area.

"I felt like we met in good faith with the people of Olsonville when we toured the property together [prior to the planning commission meeting], and all of us mutually agreed it would be unwise to locate the haul road adjacent to their properties or the power line," said Tan. "I understand the tendency to be opposed to something like this in your own neighborhood, but we are working at making this agreeable to everyone. The gravel will be taken, whether it's the county that does it or a private company. We're trying to work to find out what's acceptable to you."

Tan went on to clarify that the gravel extraction would only be to remove the mound of dirt down to ground level and would not involve digging any sort of pit that would pose any sort of threat to ground water or the well being of the residents themselves.

Commissioner Gordon Aanerud went on to defend the county's right to enter into economic development activities, saying it receives a yearly allotment of state funds from the taconite mining settlement that can only be used for economic development purposes.

"We need to do something to create jobs to reduce our health and welfare budget," said Aanerud, "and this piece of property is ideal for development because it has access to both the freeway and the highway as well as three-phase power running through it.


"Ideally, nothing would ever change in our lives," Aanerud continued, "but the best thing any of us can do is embrace change, because we're going to have a big influx of people over the next 20 years and it's inevitable that change is going to come."

Pihlman claimedthat by offering "controlled development" in the area of Olsonville, the county will be able to put a plan in place that "everyone can live with." He went on to suggest the proposal be tabled until later in September so Planning and Zoning Director Bruce Benson, County Engineer Wayne Olson and County Economic Development Director Pat Oman can meet with attorney Chuck Andresen of Duluth, who has been retained by some of the residents of Olsonville to represent their interests.

Andresen stated in an interview later that day that the Olsonville residents plan to meet on their own first to discuss what points are most important to them. He said the group will then appoint a few of its members to meet with Andresen to decide what issues they want him to bring to the table.

"We'll review our options and then determine, if the proposal does move forward, what items we want to be certain are included," Andresen said. He expects that meeting to take place sometime before the end of August.

Olsonville resident Chris Hietala, who was instrumental in helping organize the residents' group but out of state on Tuesday and unable to attend the meeting, conveyed his thoughts in a telephone interview that night.

Hietala stated the number one concern still remaining in his mind is the safety of the residents, especially the children and elderly, if the temporary road to the gravel mining site is located along the edge of Olsonville Circle, as he stated one of the alternative routes indicates. He speculated the other two alternative routes may well run into roadblocks with their proximity to Otter Creek and the railroad tracks. However, Commissioner Pihlman indicated following the meeting that board members are supporting a route that would enter from the north in the vicinity of Ulland Bros. Inc. on Highway 210 and skirt the Olsonville area entirely.

Hietala further stated he and others are concerned the county does not yet have a comprehensive plan formulated for the property as a whole and they feel such a plan should be completed and examined before any further action commences.

Hietala said he plans to meet with other Olsonville residents this Saturday to discuss further actions.


Pine Journal Publisher/ reporter Wendy Johnson can be contacted at: .

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