County residents hear details of extraction pit project to fill Alliant Energy ash ponds south of Lansing; Public comments accepted through April 3

Public hearing on extraction site ... A public hearing was well attended Thursday evening, March 2 at the Driftless Area Education and Visitors Center in Lansing as details were discussed and public concerns were heard regarding a proposed extraction pit project that will be used to fill the vacated ash ponds at the now decommissioned Alliant Energy Lansing Generating Station. In photo above, project superintendent Marty McCuskey of Ames Construction discusses the cut area of the proposed extraction pit site. Photo by Ellen Modersohn.

Public hearing on extraction site ... Pictured above, Allamakee County Zoning Administrator Stephanie Runkle talks about water flow at the proposed extraction pit site along Lafayette Ridge Drive, south of Lansing. Photo by Ellen Modersohn.

Large crowd in attendance ... Area residents turned out for the public hearing held Thursday evening, March 2 at the Driftless Area Education and Visitors Center in Lansing to discuss an extraction pit project proposed to fill the vacant ash ponds at the decommissioned Alliant Energy Lansing Generating Station located south of Lansing. Those in attendance were able to hear details of the proposed project and have their concerns addressed by both project and Allamakee County officials. Photo by Ellen Modersohn.

by Ellen Modersohn

Rural Lansing property owners near the site of a proposed large-scale extraction pit filled a meeting room at the Driftless Area Education and Visitors Center Thursday evening, March 2 for a public hearing about the site.

Ames Construction of Burnsville, MN has applied to the Allamakee County Planning and Zoning Office for a conditional use permit to operate a “borrow pit” at a farm at 2074 Lafayette Ridge Drive, south of Lansing. Ames would be removing 307,000 cubic yards of fill and trucking it seven miles to fill and cap the Alliant Energy ash ponds at Power Plant Road, south of Lansing. The project would last approximately from May through November this year. Randy and Kristy Gaunitz are the extraction pit site landowners.

The hearing kicked off a 30-day comment period on the project. Anyone with questions or comments regarding the project may contact Stephanie Runkle, Allamakee County Zoning Administrator at 563-568-3014 or Comments should be submitted by April 3 of this year. Runkle will include the comments in a report given to the Allamakee County Board of Adjustment for its meeting scheduled for April 3, when that board will decide whether to provide the permit.

Runkle and Allamakee County Engineer Brian Ridenour, along with Ames Construction representatives, project engineer Dune Coddington and project superintendent Marty McCuskey, outlined the project and answered questions at the hearing. The project will include several stages: preparation of the 27.66-acre site, excavation, hauling and restoration.

Site preparation will include installation of erosion control devices such as silt fences and a temporary access road. The dig site will be divided into sections for earth removal. Topsoil will be stripped from a section, then common fill will be removed to a depth of between six and 20 feet and the topsoil will be replaced before the next section is begun, McCuskey said. Removing the earth will flatten rises in the farmland and, according to an environmental assessment worksheet provided at the hearing, the final design is expected to reduce erosion and improve farm ground use.

Coddington and McCuskey said that a total of 30 semi-trucks will move the fill from the farm site to the power plant, for a total of 300 loads per day being hauled on Lafayette Ridge Drive and Great River Road. Trucks will be on the roads between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m., Monday through Friday, except holidays, according to McCuskey. Coddington said that Ames often uses its own trucks for such projects, along with hiring local trucking operations, but because of the high number of projects Ames will be engaged in this year, they may hire more local truckers than usual.

Concerns raised by local residents at the hearing fell largely into four categories: safety, road impact, air pollution in the form of dust, and potential well contamination.

People living along Lafayette Ridge Drive said they felt the semis would pose a danger to school buses, slow-moving farm vehicles and gator ATVs, especially during planting and harvesting seasons. Semis on the route to the power plant at any one time could number between 15 and 20, McCuskey said.

He said message boards and signs would be posted along surrounding roads starting “multiple miles ahead” during the project to alert drivers about the truck traffic and that the truck drivers would follow speed limits. McCuskey said his team would hold safety meetings three times a day with the truck drivers. “The drivers get paid by the hour, not the load,” he said. “There is no incentive to speed.”

Coddington added, “If we follow all of the safety regulations, there should not be increased risk.”

Residents living at the corner of Lafayette Ridge Drive and Great River Road noted that the intersection has a blind spot for northbound drivers and that summer visitors to the area, including motorcyclists, could pose additional collision dangers. McCuskey said signage posted along Great River Road would warn drivers of the trucks and Allamakee County Sheriff Clark Mellick said that area would have additional patrols during the project. According to Ridenour, a survey of accidents in the county showed there had been none at that intersection in the past 10 years.

The trucks’ effect on the lifespan of the roads was also questioned during the hearing. Runkle said the conditional use permit process requires that a road impact study be done by an engineer selected by the county. If the study finds the project will have a negative impact on roads, a road impact agreement is drawn up in which the cost of mitigating that impact is paid for by the project operators. That process for this project is still ongoing, according to Runkle and Ridenour.

Several people asked how Ames would handle dust created by the trucks. Coddington said truckloads would not be covered by tarps but that dust in the air and dirt on the roads would be mitigated by not overloading the trucks, keeping them under maximum weight loads. McCuskey also said that site preparation would include a “tracking pad” between the access road and Lafayette Ridge Drive to minimize soil tracked from the project site onto the road. He said Ames also intends to water the gravel access road when dust starts to rise.

Residents who live near the project site questioned whether karst geology, characterized by underground drainage systems, would be disturbed during the digging, and whether their wells could be contaminated by bacteria or harmful minerals such as lead harbored in the stone. One neighbor said there is an outcropping of limestone at the borrow site.

Coddington said the Iowa state geologist did a study of the site, as required by the permit process, and determined that the project would not disturb rock or water tables. The only thing that could possibly enter a well because of this project, he said, is dirt.

To ensure Ames Construction completes the project as permitted, the company will have a reclamation bond held by Allamakee County, Coddington said, “which is like insurance that we’re going to do our job.” If something did go wrong the bond could be used to restore the property, he said. The County Board of Adjustment would decide the amount of the bond.