Bonnie Matter Commissioner Jessica Fisher
Residents weigh in on EAW at Dec. 20 Planning Commission meeting

Meeting December 20, the Cottage Grove Planning Commission held a public hearing on the Mississippi Dunes Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW), set to go before the Council for a decision later next month on January 19th.

Following an explanation of the public hearing process from Commissioner Evan Frazier and an EAW rundown from Bolton and Menk Senior Planner Jane Kansier, the Planning Commission heard from two public commenters, Bonnie Matter of Cottage Grove and Sharon O’ Boyle of Grey Cloud Island Township.

“Hello Planning Commission members,” Matter started out the public comment section, then giving her name and address. “I have some comments. I’m going to read them because I’m going to stay within my three minutes because I timed it,” she told the Commission. Taking her three minutes of public comment time to run through a list, Matter presented several questions to the Planning Commissioners.”

“Number one: Did the Planning Commission members read the public comments submitted on the EAW,” she asked, then continuing. “Number two, there are 37 daily trains that run by the proposed development. Missing from the EAW was information like the distance between the tracks and the residences in the development. Negative impact on the resident’s quality of life due to noise pollution, diesel engine smells, and air quality. Train vibrations: structural damage to houses due to foundation and settling issues. Potential grassfires in dry hot summers from sparks. Train schedules: morning, afternoon, evening, night, all the time. When do they run? Train loads, how big? How much? What’s on them? Any hazardous materials? How would future increased rail traffic impact the residents? And what are the mitigation plans for these issues?” Matter wasn’t finished asking questions, however.

“Number three, the substantial increase in impervious surfaces from rooftops to roads. No trees to help with sound dampening and air cleaning. What’s the mitigation plan? Number four: building a senior apartment building on a slab foundation on wetlands. Slabs will freeze and thaw and crack. Vibrations from trains will exacerbate the problems. What’s the mitigation plan? Number five: there’s a section 11B two stormwater about water quality and volume control. It states that if the developer indicates they cannot meet the requirements, the purchase of offsite mitigation credits is an option,” she said, going her opinion. “In this sensitive critical area, mitigation should be an absolute requirement. There should be no purchase of offsite mitigation credits. Where would a statement like this ever be considered for the type of area under review. Number six: traffic study does not reflect the development’s future traffic load with industrial development going in to the east. Number seven: there is only one way in and out of the development. There is a quote ‘potential’ unquote for one more outlet. What if all those homes had to be evacuated? How would the residents all get out at one time with one outlet? 369 single-family homes and 130 senior units in a multi-family building. Eight: please request a copy of my EAW comments, and review the many issues with the EAW. If you’re going to allow this development to go forward, then you must help protect the Mississippi River and the future homeowners in that development,” Matter closed out, adding, “this is only a portion of what I submitted. Thank you very much for your time.”

Following Matter’s comments to the Planning Commission, the next public speaker who came to the podium was Sharon O’ Boyle, of Grey Cloud Township.

“I read the whole thing,” she said. “Both the EAW and the historical description of the house. Which I found really interesting because I lived in that house until I was eight years old.”

Next prodded by the Planning Commission to give her name and address for the record as it was acknowledged that she had appeared before the Commission before, O’ Boyle obliged, then returning to make her comment.

“I did live in the house on Mississippi Dunes until I was eight years old,” she made known. “My Grandma O’ Boyle owned the land before it was sold to become Mississippi Dunes Golf course.” O’ Boyle’s next point was on qualifications for historic status for the residence.

“I don’t know if this would count or not, but my Grandma O’Boyle was the first woman to be a postmistress in St. Paul Park,” she said of important people at the residence. “So I think that rates as something of historical value,” she said,” then turning her comments to the proposed development.

“What I noticed with the EAW was that they addressed the endangered species that have been seen in that area on the property, and if you put five hundred units on that land you’re going to lose the endangered species. So I think development is fine, but not on that property,” she said. “And I’ve said that all along.” O’ Boyle then shared her opinion that the city had an opportunity to combine the area with Grey Cloud Dunes and team up with other entities as had happened to put together Grey Cloud Island Regional Park.

“The other thing that I noticed in the EAW besides the endangered species is that the land is sand,” O’ Boyle said, “so the EAW says that all of that sand would have to be removed for there to be any housing put in, and that to me is a red flag. That if you have to remove that much soil, it’s not a good place to put a development. And the fact that you’re going to have to use sump pumps because it’s in a flood plain…” she said.

In fact the need for sump pump use for development is related to karst rock underlying the site which is prone to water erosion, not from a flood plain. But O’ Boyle wasn’t finished speaking.

“The other thing I was thinking about was Pullman Elementary. I had worked there with Rainbow Kids Club years ago. Where are all the children going to go?” She asked, saying she had heard from Cottage Grove residents that Pullman was “at capacity.”

“So if you’ve got 500 homes, where are those kids,—you know, you’re going to have to build another school—you know, so that doesn’t make any sense either.”

O’ Boyle finished her comments by bringing up the gallons of water the development would use, along with sewage created and cars on the road.

“So I don’t—choose wisely,” she told the Council as she closed out her remarks. With two emails and a handwritten letter that were going to be provided as public comment to help the Council make its decision, the public hearing was then closed. From there it was into remarks from the Planning Commission, beginning with Commissioner Jessica Fisher, who challenged O’ Boyle’s contention on Pullman Elementary.

“Just a comment, just in response to Miss O’ Boyle’s comment on Pullman Elementary,:” she said. “I happen to be on the PTA at Pullman Elementary…So I understand that this new development going in at Mississippi Dunes, along with the one going in already, is Pullman, but Pullman is not at capacity,” Fisher said in contrast to O’ Boyle’s contention. Fisher said she was “directly involved in class sizes” as a support for her comment.

“I just wanted to make sure that was in the public comment,” Fisher shared of her comments. NO other Plan Commission members offered comment at the December 20 Planning Commission meeting.

With a motion by Commissioner Derek Rasmussen second by Commissioner Eric Knable, the minutes for the November 22 Planning Commission meeting were approved, with an update from Economic Development Director Christine Costello.

“Good evening, Planning Commissioners,” Costello said. “Quickly to go over the previous two City Council meetings. At the December 1st City Council meeting they approved the Harkness Apartments, the final plat and devlopment agreement. And then Mississippi Dunes Master Plan was approved at that meeting as well. Then at the December 15 meeting the Mississippi River Critical Corridor Amendment was approved, and then NorthPoint Development was approved,” she said. “So they will move forward with making application for their first phase,” she said of the North Point development, then turning things over to Steve Dennis.

The Commission did not have questions for Dennis upon being given the opportunity, adjournment then following.

Sharon O’Boyle

December 29, 2021