UMore Part 2: Residents raise many concerns about project
About this story: The University of Minnesota has big plans for 1,600 acres that straddle Rosemount and Empire Township, and those plans have led to a lot of questions.
The Rosemount Town Pages will do a three part series on the project and some of the issues that are coming out of it. The first story focused on the environmental assessment and cleanup of the former gunpowder plant that sat on the property. This story will discuss concerns the city and residents have with the mining in the area. The third story will be an overview of what's to come.
The University of Minnesota's UMore Park project is big, and like any large undertaking it's bound to cause some concern among residents.
Rosemount residents have already voiced numerous concerns about the project, which includes as many as 30,000 homes over the next 30 years. The concerns fall all over the map, whether they are related to possible pollution from a smokeless gunpowder plant that once stood on the site, to the mining operation the university has proposed.
The university has held several public meetings to address those concerns, and the city will continue to work with university officials to address issues. But for many the concerns linger, a mix of worry about what is happening now and lingering bad feelings from previous U of M projects.
The university will select a contractor to assess the pollution on the property later this year. Janet Dalgleish, the environmental affairs coordinator, said assessment work should begin immediately.
The selected company will do soil samplings and groundwater testing throughout the property. While they won't be able to test every inch of the property, Dalgleish said historical records and maps will help show where pollution may be located.
She said preliminary tests have shown "hot spots" of mercury, hydrocarbons and dinitrotoluene, all remnants of the gunpowder plant. None of those products exist at an explosive level. Dalgleish said those spots in particular need more investigation. While officials know there is some pollution on the site they hope it is limited.
The university doesn't yet have a formal plan to proceed with cleanup but is committed to bettering the site. She said the company selected to do the assessment will make recommendations on how the university should proceed.
"We want to know what we're dealing with in each area. In some areas we'll need more research and in other areas we'll create remediation plans," said Dalgleish.
She said the university will work with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to remediate the pollution. The hope is to clean up the pollution to a standard that is acceptable for residential living conditions in all areas of the property, which is the highest standard.
"We can't move forward with the plan until we can give the public an idea of the contamination," said Dalgleish.
So far, the university has been forthcoming with information regarding the cleanup and it has pledged to keep the public informed of its findings.
Openness with the public about the property hasn't always been the case though and it has led to some bitter feelings.
"Show me one thing the university has done that's been good for the residents of Rosemount or the (Empire) township," said Myron Napper, who lives near the proposed development. "They should have done the cleanup a longtime ago."
Napper said years of frustration with the university has made him doubt the plans will work.
Dennis Ozment, who has lived in Rosemount his entire life, said in the past the university has chosen to keep residents in the dark, which has led many to be leery of anything the school does with the property.
"The university has been very secretive in the past and many people that have lived here a long time don't trust them," said Ozment.
But Ozment is optimistic the university is acting in good faith this time around.
"As for their plans this time around it sounds progressive and so far I have been encouraged by the contact they have had with the community," said Ozment.
"If they want to make it great, they will let the people be part of it. I think the university is doing that."
A big part of the UMore Park project will be gravel mining on 1,600 acres of the site. The mining will provide income for the creation of the residential community that could bring 20,000 to 30,000 people to the area.
Before the university could start mining, though, it had to create an Environmental Impact Statement regarding the operation. It published the statement in June and has been taking comments for other local government agencies and residents.
The university held several meetings for resident and quite a few came out to share concerns. Resident said they were worried about noise, dust, truck traffic and the size of the project, among other things.
Residents, especially those who live near the UMore Park property, are all too familiar with mining. There are four large mining operations in the area now and in the past there have been issues with other mines in the area.
"People aren't in favor of the project and I'm just telling them the way people think about it," said Napper, who said he has been vocal at a number of city council and university meetings. "It's a shame it has to be this way."
Napper said if he had it his way the university would sell the land off in parcels to private developers who could turn the property into taxable money for the city.
"There are too many smarts and not enough common sense," said Napper.
The city of Rosemount had the chance to respond to the EIS and sent a 10-page letter to the university. The letter goes into detail about city and resident concerns.
The letter expresses worry that the EIS underestimates the impact of noise, dust and traffic. Mayor Bill Droste said the length of operation and the ancillary uses also are issues.
Droste doesn't blame residents for being wary.
"Initially, we didn't have good detail. As more details come forward I think people will become more comfortable," said Droste. "I understand why residents have a negative view of it and it's going to be an education process to change that view."
The city has the greatest ability to control the university's plans. The city will review mining plans. The city's planning department is currently in the process of creating an ordinance to regulate the operation.
City administrator Dwight Johnson said residents will have several opportunities to speak up about the plans. The planning commission will hold a public hearing on the ordinance after it has been drafted.
"Residents will have a number of opportunities to speak on the issue if they want to," said Johnson.
After approval of a mining ordinance, Dakota Aggregates, the company the university is partnering with, will have to apply formally for a mining permit from the city, based on the conditions and standards of the new ordinance. The mining permit will also require a public hearing at the planning commission and review and approval by the city council before the start of mining on the site.
In the meantime, Droste encouraged residents to research the project and learn as much as they can. He also encouraged people to talk with city council members or city staff about their concerns.
"There's a lot of work do to. People in the area are nervous, but mining is different than it was in the past. It's been cleaned up. We also will work to make sure residents understand the mining operation and what impact they'll have," said Droste.
For more information visit the city's web site at www.ci.rosemount.mn.us or call Kim Lindquist, community development director, at 651-322-2020 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or Eric Zweber, senior planner, at 651-322-2052 or email@example.com.