Land Use – Connect the Dots

August 14th, 2005

It’s hard for me to understand people’s difficulty with “sustainability.” Isn’t it apparent that we have to consider the impacts of our actions on our surroundings? That our very lives are dependent on it?

I-35 Albers Park.JPG

From the way Rice County is pushing the 11.5 million square feet of commercial and industrial development, what Lief Knecht realistically described at a Committee 1 meeting as “a new city,” it’s hard not to conclude they just don’t give a proverbial rodent’s rump, and as Gordon Kelly’s circular reasoning goes, “we’ve got to get off the dime because we’ve got to get off the dime.” The only logical reasons that come to mind are grossly misplaced trust, greed, special interest influence, delusion, inflated sense of self-importance, shortsightedness? Others it could be? Please let me know, as it makes no sense to me… Bruce Morlan’s asking “Who’s in charge here?” A logical question!

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Now they’re all forced to care — Minnesota’s Appellate Court has done what the ineffective MPCA, agency of Gov. Pawlenty, has refused to do — enforce the Clean Water Act. It’s an issue for the I-35 development because they cannot add to the pollution of Lake Byllesby, and the Cannon River is grossly impaired, pollution is an issue long before we get even close to Lake Pepin. The Impaired Waters List is no secret! Why is the consultant expressing concern about Lake Byllesby as the limiting factor when the Cannon River is on the Impaired List? Cannon River Watershed Partnership, where are you in this I-35 discussion? Rice County had better pay attention to this case’s implications for the county plans.

Here’s the actual decision — do take the time to read it:

In the Matter of the Cities of Annandale and Maple Lake NPDES/SDS Permit Issuance for the Discharge of Treated Wastewater, and Request for Contested Case Hearing.

Essential holding: Under 40 C.F.R. ยง 122.4(i) (2004), a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit may not be issued for a new source when its discharge will cause or contribute to the impairment of waters with impaired status under the Clean Water Act.

And let’s hear it for Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy for pursuing this case (I’m not a fan of their concept of energy policy, but this is a good thing). FYI – MCEA is looking for a Legislative Director.

And while you’re at it, check out the Northstar Sierra Club’s report Restoring Water Quality Certification in Minnesota.

There’s a STrib editorial about this today, and remember that the 2012 and 2009 dates are for PLANS, not removing the bodies of water from the Impaired Water List, which will take a lot longer:

Annandale’s water fix was inevitable

Whether the Clean Water Act should permit more flexibility is a matter for Congress; for now, the law is the law, and the only way for Annandale and Maple Grove to get their permit is for the MPCA to come up with plans for getting Lake Pepin and the North Fork of the Crow River off the impaired waters list.

That the agency’s current timetable calls for these to be completed in 2012 and 2009, respectively, suggests the magnitude of difficulty that cities and businesses all over Minnesota may be facing as they try to grow within the limits of the law. If MPCA can’t pick up the pace, and the Legislature provide the resources for doing so, Annandale and Maple Grove will have lots of company in their plight.

Waseca County is updating its Comprehensive Plan, long overdue, but the way they’re doing it, it’s better termed the “Incomprehensible Plan.” My client, Nancy Prehn, and her friend and neighbor Jean Hansen, held a meeting at the Waseca County Annex a couple weeks ago for citizens to discuss the proposed plan changes.

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That’s Jean at the blackboard, Nancy in front at the table on left.

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Jean’s husband Scott, and Jeremy Ellers (for Senate District 26). Sen. Dick Day and Rep. Connie Ruth were no shows.

Despite all the inconsistencies between the Comp Plan and other county plans and state laws, and despite the County’s lack of acknowledgement of its Water Plan and specific information and policy needs detailed in it back in 1997 that have yet to be addressed, total ignorance of impaired waters in Waseca County, the County’s Planning Commission went ahead and recommended adoption — after an amendment is made to acknowledge a little fact that the consultant did not know about — the presence of 7 billion cubic feet of underground natural gas storage!!! The County Commissioners will probably approve it soon. One of the more onerous provisions is that the Comprehensive Plan will be changed to allow residential development along every body of water in the county, from lakes to rivers to tiny creeks — all the water is ringed in blue. Is this sustainable development?


Development fever in the face of economic and environmental scenarios where it is not sustainable — it feels like it’s 1926 and we’re headed for a train wreck. Today’s New York Times had this reality check (thanks to Barbara Miller for passing it on):

Do try this at home: Assessing your area’s real estate bubble

“It’s taking a lot longer to sell a home,” says Karl A. Martone, a Re/Max Properties agent in Providence, where homes now sit on the market an average of 65 days, up from 14 days a year ago. The region has almost six months of inventory, which is up 35 percent from a year ago.

Indicators to look at are market activity, inventory, prices, failed to sell, price-to-rent ratio, loan quality, risk and popular sentiment. The article does report some good news about the idiocy of “interest only” mortgages:

Loan quality The popularity of interest-only mortgages could become one of the best indicators of a fragile market, several economists say. Mr. Thornberg of UCLA Anderson says it’s a sign that lenders are scraping the bottom of the barrel. “We are close to running out of shills,” he says.

I am SO grateful for my $32,000 mortgage balance! That low mortgage payment is the most important factor that lets me more or less do the work I love — as Jerry says, “to pursue that goal and feed the dog at the same time…” Mortgage payments are inversely proportional to independence!

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Here’s Kri, lounging after doing her dog thing today. I’ve been spending time with her every day, playing, taking her for walks, and today we did something daring… shhhhhh… don’t tell, but I took her off leash and we worked on “Come, pup!” and the usual “sit” and “down” and “stay.” You can see she looks awfully satisfied with herself! With reason!


Kri is a senior shep who needs a home — if I didn’t have a senior shep who’s a wuss pup, I’d take her in a New York minute, because she’s a great dog. She’s old enough to lay around a bit, but peppy enough to wear you out tossing balls. Kri spent a lot of time in a kennel popping out puppies, and she’s not used to bonding with people, hanging around, focusing her attention on humans, so that’s what I’ve been working on with her. Yesterday, we went swimming in a nearby creek to cool off — she really enjoyed that!

Humane Society of Goodhue County
1213 Brick Road
Red Wing, MN 55066 651-388-5286


We go through two or three hot dogs a day, but now, after just a week, she is paying more attention, and today she was focused even though I’d forgotten the hot dogs! She now “walks nicely on a leash,” as they say in doggie school, she doesn’t “stay” yet, but we’ll get there. She comes when called, but I’ve got a feeling that getting the ball tossed again is her primary motivator! We spent a long time tossing that stick today, and she was grinning that shep grin, ear to ear! Look at this happy pup!


If you’re looking for a dog that will give you great return for the time you put in with her, one who’s over those chewing days, one who will lay around on the couch snarfing popcorn and beer (my brother’s favorite activity with his dogs) or run with you in the morning or go for walks after work, she’s the perfect dog. Call the Humane Society:

Humane Society of Goodhue County
1213 Brick Road
Red Wing, MN 55066 651-388-5286

Head on down to Red Wing and take her around the block!

The Humane Society of Goodhue County is located at 1213 Brick Ave Red Wing, MN. Hwy 61 runs directly through the city of Red Wing. About one mile north of the downtown district will be Wilters Harbor Drive, right by Perkins. Go south there, Wilthers Harbor will loop around, take the first left onto Tile Dr. Take Tile Dr. approxiately 1/2 mile around a curve or two to Brick Ave. Take a right onto Brick Ave. It’s at the end of Brick on the left hand side. If you find yourself on the recycling scale, you’ve gone too far!

More about the I-35 proposed 11.5 million square foot commercial and industrial development, including this intersection of Co. Rd. 46 and Co. Rd. 1 (imagine Co. Rd. 1 with a five lane I-35 over pass and the traffic):


On Wednesday, I went to the Committee 1 meeting and was appalled, as usual. The draft AUAR was handed out, and I do have a copy for my reading pleasure. Paragraph 9 of the AUAR is disturbing because they anticipate the retroactive Comprehensive Plan changes necessary to make the Comprehensive Plan cover the zoning changes. And of course there is no “no-build” and cost info just isn’t there.

In today’s Northfield News:

Letters to the editor

Big Brother in the making

To the editor:
At Wednesday’s county committee No. 1 meeting, Commissioner Jim Brown suddenly realized that the county master plan for the rezoned land on Interstate 35 could be jeopardized by the free market process. You see, there might be all sorts of businesses that want to locate in that area but they might not be the right type — regardless of how much money they might pay the landowners and bring the county. Or they may think that the perfect location for their business is in a completely different place than the master plan designation.

So, after some discussion with the consultants, Brown decided that probably the best thing to do is get some new restrictive zoning language to “support” the master plan. This, of course, means the creation of yet another committee that would integrate the zoning language with the master plan by the Dec. 31 deadline — which will, of course, require a consultant to work with it for the attendant substantial fee.

Now, in the past, Brown has stated to numerous people that property owners should be able to do what they want with their property. And his votes and discussion on planning and zoning items certainly back that up. So, this turn-around is puzzling. After all, this type of zoning language would basically tell the landowners when they could sell and who they could sell to.

In other words, if you own land on County Road 1 and you get an incredible offer for your property but development has started on Highway 19, you have to wait until the development reaches you to act on it. Will the offer still be on the table by then? And, if you own property in an area designated for office space but you get a great offer from a retail chain, you just may have to turn it down. Or will the county take total control and require any business wishing to locate in that area to see planning and zoning before a landowner may be approached? And what about those landowners who find themselves in a “must-sell” situation before development gets to them? How about the people in the immediate path of the development who don’t want to sell? The ones who are connected to their land and community in ways Jim Brown can never understand?

To me, this is a huge loss of control for the property owner and puts Jim Brown (who has put himself in charge of this development) in the position of taking control out of every real property owner’s hands. As time goes on, the number of questions and issues grow instead of being remedied, and more money is being thrown at the project than the public was ever told to expect. Timelines before seeing substantial tax revenue are lengthening. And through it all, Jim Brown takes more and more control to try to ensure the success of his pet project. A very real Big Brother in the making.

Debra M. Sullivan
Bridgewater Township

In its suit against Rice County, Rice County Land Use Accountability, Inc., is asking for training for County Commissioners, County Planning Commissioners, and County staff. Last night’s meeting demonstrated why this is necessary. At the meeting, the Planning Commission voted to recommend to retroactively change the Comprehensive Plan so that the I-35 Zoning change fits under the plan — after all, zoning changes may only be made if they are consistent with the Comp Plan — and it isn’t now, by the County’s own admission.


Jim Brown, in a rambling whine, said that you change zoning first, then change the Comprehensive Plan to fit. I cannot believe… how does a guy like this get elected? Oh… that’s right… his publicly stated position during the campaign was that on the I-35 development he wanted to “go slow,” yup, that’s how he got elected, he said one thing and does another, in public tell them what they want to hear.

More on this meeting after I get an appeal draft done on that transmission case… Chuck Von Ruden had some excellent comments, Mary Herzog made my day with hers, it was a frustrating meeting, but the people turned out, the cities stood up, Dundas and Faribault’s mayors demonstrated leadership and represented their constituents well (Lee Lansing, where were you?), and Dixon Bond and Scott Davis were superb in stating their concerns. Bill Malecha testified — do they remember that the Forest Town Board was against rezoning? As usual, all the comments, and there were many last night, were against this change. The entire Planning Commission, with their unanimous vote, displayed disregard for the public and cities they are supposed to represent, whose interests they are supposed to protect.



Hot off the press, from the Faribault Daily News:

County changes plan to develop

Friday, August 12, 2005

By Thomas E. Hammell
Daily News Staff Writer

FARIBAULT — The Rice County Planning and Zoning Commission approved Thursday three amendments to the county’s Strategic Development Plan at a public hearing.

The changes are intended to maintain constancy between the county’s comprehensive plan and the Rice County Zoning Ordinance.

The first change was in the wording of the plan to allow for transfer of development rights to occur within a township rather than within a section of a township — allowing the development rights to be transferred over a greater area. The second was to remove village growth zones.

The third and most controversial of the changes was to change the comprehensive plan to reflect zoning changes to land north of Faribault along the Interstate 35 corridor.

Nancy Marth of Erin Township was one of the first area residents to speak at the meeting and she brought up concerns with how the changes were made.

“I, for one, was under the impression that a comprehensive plan was the plan and the ordinance to follow would make that a reality,” she said.

Marth felt that citizens’ concerns weren’t being addressed.

“No wonder people feel that anything they say is a waste of time,” she said.

County Planning and Zoning Director Arlyn Grussing said the change in zoning along the I-35 corridor was likely what brought most residents to the meeting.

“That’s probably why most of the people showed up was for this item,” Grussing said.

Grussing said the reason for the zoning change for 1,200 acres near I-35 from agricultural to highway commercial was to prevent areas of the county from becoming bedroom communities.

“We do have a decreasing amount of tax base coming from commercial industrial,” Grussing said.

He also said that changing the strategic development plan fit the county’s goals in setting it.

“Our attorney said the rezoning was consistent with the plan,” Grussing said.

Carol Overland is the attorney for Rice County Land Use Accountability, a group that has sued the county over environmental issues in the past. Overland said the change in zoning was inconsistent with the plan — and the county’s desire to change it was an admission of that inconsistency.

“What that means is it’s not consistent now and when those changes are made it will be consistent,” she said.

Overland said the board was not representing the wishes of its constituents.

“You need to represent them, that’s what you’re here to do,” she said.

One resident, Dan Soderlund, said he was not in opposition to development philosophically but did raise some concerns about who would pay for it.

“My big concern is who’s going to be stuck with the bill on this thing,” he said.

— Thomas E. Hammell can be reached at 333-3128 or

And here’s a great letter in today’s Faribault Daily News:

Where are we?

8/12/2005 5:00:00 AM

To the editor:

With the recent shenanigans regarding the I-35 zoning fiasco, I found I have had to check my residency to verify I still live in the United States of America. I have spoken to numerous Rice County residents and have not found a single person who supports the I-35 industrial zone.

In addition, it appears the cities of Northfield and Faribault do not support the new commercial zone as it will pull potential corporations from their tax bases and established infrastructures. Who supports this?

I can’t find anyone — yet, the wheels of “progress” continue to grind forward. Although my family doesn’t live in the proposed zone, we live right across the street. I do not look forward to exchanging the beautiful view I currently enjoy with the eyesore of large buildings and the roar of trucks and traffic. I have spent thousands of dollars of my own money doing wetland restoration around Heath Creek at the outlet of Union Lake only to find that just downstream, this beautiful waterway will not be afforded the same protection. How long until the the police state arrives to forcibly remove my neighbors living in the zone through eminent domain? I guess a country that supports the destruction of human life in the womb certainly doesn’t care about the rights of anyone else.

Who is going to pay for this mess? You and I — the already heavily burdened taxpayers of Rice County. Now is the time to stand up against the zoning commisioners and hold them accountable. I hope to see all of my fellow disgruntled neighbors at the upcoming zoning hearing. Let’s restore the democracy that has been stripped from our hands.

Dan Soderlund

Will we ever learn? And will we ever act on our knowledge? Thanks to the Transmission Omnibus Bill from Hell, the new coal burning power plants in SD and ND will have transmission to get that power to market, transmission without which these plants would not be built. Every legislator who voted for this bill is responsible, and every environmental group, particularly those advocating and testifying — North American Water Office and Izaak Walton League (and its grant organization, Wind on the Wires) — are responsible. Thanks!

Here’s an “artists rendering” of Big Stone II:


Big Stone II, on the South Dakota side of the Minnesota border, is moving foward in the permitting process. This came in yesterday from Lisa Daniels, of Windustry:

This is a heads up that the first time for comments on the Big Stone II coal plant is coming up Sept. 13 in Milbank, SD. This will be a time for informal comments but from what I understand will get interested parties on the official intervention list and part of the process.

Location: The lantern Inn Motel, Milbank, SD
When: Sept. 13, 2005 at 7:00pm

Questions: SE PUC 1-800-332-1782
Michele Rarris, SD PUC staff analyst
Karen Cramer, SD PUC staff attorney

EL05-022 – In the Matter of the Application by Otter Tail Power Company on behalf of Big Stone II Co-Owners for an Energy Conversion Facility Permit for the Construction of the Big Stone II Project.

Here’s the link for the Big Stone II application — it is a biggie, don’t go there if you’re on dialup!

Here’s the Transmission Application for Big Stone — TRANSMISSION FOR BIG STONE IS IN MINNESOTA!!! To get more info, go to the PUC and go to “eDockets” and plug in the Docket No. “05-619” and the filings will appear.

Big Stone II came up at the most recent Power Plant Siting Act Annual Hearing (search for Big Stone).


In today’s New York Times:

The Canaries Had Their Coal Mines

Mr. Evers, who is executive director of the BioDiversity Research Institute, a nonprofit research and education group in Gorham, Me., is looking for signs of mercury in the songbirds. He has a pretty good hunch that he will find it, as he has already found mercury in songbirds in the Adirondacks and in New England.

If substantial amounts of mercury show up in the blood and feathers he has collected, it could spell trouble for the watershed and, potentially, for the nine million people who rely on the New York drinking water that comes from here because it would mean that the toxin is present in ways that were previously unknown.

“It’s far more extensive than was ever put forth to the public,” Mr. Evers said.

Mercury contamination has long been present in lakes, rivers and the city’s reservoirs.

Canaries had their coal mines, wood thrushes have their coal plants, as do we… we all are sharing the mercury. Maybe new coal plants are sufficient evidence of the impact of mercury on human brain function? Ya think???