What exactly happened and who is responsible were the two core questions. The answers are still pending.
Following the failure of a stormwater containment system late last month at the site of the former Zavoral gravel mine east of the Highway 95/97 intersection, the Scandia City Council last week asked for a report on the situation from Carnelian-Marine-St. Croix Watershed District and representatives of BHE Renewables, which operates the solar facility now onsite.
“We obviously have a lot of examination and study to do to determine what happened,” said Jim Shaver, administrator of the watershed district, which issued stormwater permits for the site.
Shaver is coordinating the efforts of the Washington Conservation District, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, BHE Renewables, the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, the railroad, the city and others to try to determine what went wrong and what mitigation might be necessary going forward.
“We have to look back at the process,” Shaver said, “from the beginning of where we issued the permits. … We don’t have all the info right now. We’ve got a lot of investigation that needs to happen.”
Wendy Greene, a representative of BHE Renewables, said the company dispatched crews to sandbag the area to prevent further damage and is focused on stabilizing and improving the site.
“We are definitely going to continue this work,” Greene said. “Our investigation and our work are definitely ongoing.”
Shaver agreed to report back to the council in a month, possibly at the council’s Nov. 7 meeting.
During the Oct. 3 council meeting, Shaver said heavy rains over a five hour period on Sept. 20 flowed over the top of a stormwater retention pond, sending tons of sand and sediment down the small creek and into the St. Croix River. Shaver sent BHE Renewables a legal notice of deficiency on Sept. 21.
Shaver said the stormwater retention ponds overtopped after roughly four inches of rain, but were supposedly designed to hold much more water than that.
There was little doubt that the creek was damaged as a result of the incident.
Byron Karns, a natural resources officer from the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, said he hiked the damaged creek, as well as other small creeks in the area to make a visual comparison of the sediments and insect life in them.
“I knew that everyone is going to be focused on this one creek,” Karns said. “It’s obviously and clearly different.”
Mike Caron, Tiller Corporation’s land use affairs director, said the height of the stormwater pond banks might have been lowered by as much as four feet since the company handed off control of the former gravel mine.
“What they have versus what we did is completely different,” Caron said.
To Caron’s point, Greene said she couldn’t comment on the site’s engineering.
Councilman Steve Kronmiller cautioned against assigning blame before the investigations were complete.
“I don’t think we want to start saying who’s liable,” Kronmiller said.
“It’s still a little unclear as to where the responsibilities fall,” he said.
Forest Lake School
The council debated whether to pass a resolution supporting the Forest Lake School District’s current operating levy referendum, as the City of Hugo did recently.
While the entire council indicated their individual support for the referendum, councilmen Bob Hegland and Jim Schneider balked at the idea of the council officially telling voters what to do.
“We’d be only one step removed from telling them who to vote for, too,” Hegland said.
Mayor Christine Maefsky, who brought the idea to the council, disagreed.
“I think we have a real problem there [with the school district funding shortages],” Maefsky said, “and I would hope that we can get behind them as a city council and say that we are in support of the operating levy.”
Kronmiller argued that it is in the city’s best interest to support the levy.
“The school district has a direct economic impact on this city,” he said. “We need to support it because our local economy depends on it.”
The issue was placed on the city’s next agenda, though, as Councilman Chris Ness abstained from the final vote so the resolution could be properly noticed and presented in writing.
• Representatives from US Solar spoke with the council last Wednesday about the city possibly reconsidering its ordinance preventing commercial solar gardens. The two representatives said the company would be willing to work with an ordinance that limited the number power poles and the height of the systems, and required more landscape screening and different types of fencing—some of the major concerns that arose with the city’s first foray into allowing solar gardens.
“My sense is, for me, that we’ve done our share at the moment,” Maefsky said.
The council requested that the company come back with a map of potential solar sites in the city, something with which the council could possibly create an overlay zoning district.
• The council approved the purchase and implementation of the QAlert citizen request management application offered through the city’s website. The application would accept complaints and other requests from Scandia residents from a variety of sources—such as through the city website, email or over the phone—for issues like trees down on the roads, dogs running at large and other public nuisances. The system would track the complaints and remind the appropriate city staff if issues go unaddressed.
The system would cost the city $150 per month, on a one-year contract.
“I think something like this would be immensely helpful,” City Administrator Neil Soltis said.
The next Scandia City Council meeting will be held on Oct. 16 at 7 p.m.