County board supports plan for environmental review of gravel pit near protected trout stream
WTIP file photo

County board supports plan for environmental review of gravel pit near protected trout stream

Cook County officials agreed with a collection of local property owners that a stringent environmental review process needs to take place before a gravel pit and asphalt plant can be built near a protected trout steam.

During a meeting March 14 at the courthouse in Grand Marais, the Cook County Board of Commissioners voted to approve a grassroots petition requesting an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) for a permit requested by KGM Contractors. The permit is for a gravel pit and a temporary asphalt plant near Mississippi Creek, a small waterway on the county’s west end near Lutsen. The stream crosses the Caribou Trail and flows north of Pike Lake. An EAW is a type of governmental review similar to the federal and more commonly referenced Environmental Impact Statement, though it is not nearly as in-depth. In addition, an EAW is not meant to approve or deny a project, but instead act as a source of information to guide other approvals and permitting decision, according to the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board.

A petition was submitted to the state board in early March due to the close proximity to the designated trout stream, the unknown groundwater connection between Mississippi Creek and the esker, and potential project impairments to the designated trout stream, according to county officials.

During an interview March 16 with WTIP, Cook County Administrator James Joerke said, “Local residents have concerns that the gravel pit could adversely affect water quality in the creek.”

In addition, Joerke said the area in question is a popular location for outdoor recreation.

“There were concerns about conflicts and the use with trucks going in and out and people hiking and cycling in that area,” Joerke said. “And so the residents brought forward this petition to conduct this environmental assessment to determine what environmental impacts could result from the creation of a gravel pit there. In my mind, this was a really prudent thing to do. I think the board agreed with that.”

Joerke said the natural resources in Cook County are “one of the most important assets that we have, we want to make sure that they’re adequately taken care of. And in so this is just really a matter of due diligence. And I think it’s the right step for us to take.”

In practical terms, the EAW is a brief document designed to lay out the basic facts of a project to determine if an environmental impact statement is required for the proposed project, according to state officials.

WTIP spoke with Cook County Highway Engineer Robbie Hass March 15 regarding possible budgetary impacts regarding the gravel pit and proposed asphalt plant. Specifically, WTIP asked if the gravel pit does not move forward, would that have a negative impact on the local highway department. Hass said KGM does not currently have any projects lined up with the county in 2023. The issue regarding the petition and community concern regarding the KGM proposal were tied directly to setbacks from the creek, and potential negative environmental impacts as a result, according to county officials.

Following the decision March 14 by the county board to approve the EAW, a collection of property owners from Cook County who were in attendance at the meeting in the courthouse in Grand Marais burst into applause.

To learn more on this topic and to hear an update on other county news, listen to the recent interview with Joerke and WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs. Audio below.

Click here to learn more about the proposed gravel pit and asphalt plant near Mississippi Creek.