For more than 65 years, crews have been extracting sand and gravel from a gravel pit north of Stillwater.
The pit, located off 100th Street North in Stillwater Township, was owned and operated by Raleigh Trucking until July 2017 when Miller Excavating took over its operation.
That’s when nearby residents began noticing a marked increase in activity at the pit.
Jan Hayne, who lives just east of the 148-acre site, said the increase in truck traffic, noise and dust caused by the pit has severely impacted her quality of life.
“I’ll be sitting in my office chair, and I can feel the vibrations,” said Hayne, who is retired from nonprofit work. “My dogs will bark because it sounds like the trucks are coming down my driveway — that’s how loud it is. With the banging and the vibrations, it’s gotten really bad. When the weather is warmer, and the windows are open, it’s all magnified.”
Township supervisor Mike McMahon said the gravel pit has been the “biggest issue facing the board” since he was elected to the town board in 2018. “At every single meeting, we are hearing from citizens overwhelmed by the truck traffic,” he said. “We’ve had more than 1,000 truck trips out there in a single day.”
The average number of truck trips to and from the pit doubled from 2017 to 2019 — from about 150 to nearly 300. In 2017, the peak one-way hauling trips per day was 530; in 2019, it was 1,025.
Hayne, who has lived next to the pit for 23 years, is pushing for a decrease in Miller’s hours.
“The days have gotten longer, and there’s a lot more weekend activity as well,” she said. “I’m here during the day, I hear it all day long.”
The site is permitted by Washington County and Stillwater Township. Under the county’s mining ordinance, conditional-use permits must be reissued every five years. Stillwater Township officials review the site annually under an annual-operating permit; the town board will meet to discuss the pit’s permit at 7 p.m. Thursday at Stillwater Town Hall.
Township staff is recommending a decrease in the hours of operation at the pit, which is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
Under the proposal, hours of the pit would be limited to 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and allowed on Saturdays only if approved by the town board chair, based on a request from the mine operator at least 48 hours in advance. If operation on a Saturday is approved, hours would be limited to 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., and no more than 30 trips would be allowed and none would be allowed on nearby Stonebridge Trail, unless specifically approved by the chair.
County and township officials held an open house earlier this year to discuss the gravel pit. Township residents raised concerns about the high volume of truck traffic. Complaints included: noise, safety, vibrations, dust, soil and mud tracked from the pit onto local roads and load banging from trucks as they dump loads at the site, according to a memo written by township planner Merritt Clapp-Smith.
The pit’s existing conditional-use permit allows for the extraction of sand and gravel, crushing of those materials and the recycling of asphalt and concrete at the site.
McMahon said he is particularly concerned about contaminants in the asphalt. “Some of it is coming from parking lots, and it’s got oil and coolant in it,” he said. “All of that stuff has been dropped off and is sitting there or has been ground up.”
Miller officials did not return a phone call seeking comment.
At the open house in January, residents complained about soil erosion onto Minnesota 95 after two heavy rain events; Miller Excavating has been actively working to address the issue, according to Clapp-Smith.
The property, which consists of a north pit and a south pit, is owned by Michael and John Raleigh and MSR Land Co.
“It’s always a balancing act between a grandfathered use that has grown greatly in scope and the residents’ desire to a quiet life,” Town Board Chairwoman Sheila-Marie Untiedt said in an email to the Pioneer Press. “The roads involved are almost all county roads, just to add a wrinkle.”
The Washington County planning advisory commission will review the site’s conditional-use permit on March 24, said Ann Pung-Terwedo, senior planner in Washington County.“We’re trying to address some of the concerns on traffic and noise,” Pung-Terwedo said, noting that townships can be more restrictive than the county in setting regulations for the gravel pit.
Rainy weather last year caused some construction projects to be stopped and more hauling to occur on other days “to catch up,” she said. “The volumes were higher on some days because of that. We’re trying to address those issues in this process.”
Trucks going to and from the site use Washington County roads, “which are there for vehicles to move materials on,” Pung-Terwedo said.
“We may not be able to resolve some of these issues, but we’re trying to work in collaboration to manage it better,” she said. “That’s our goal, and through this process, we hope to get there.”