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Should county quarry rock at Stone Point Park? (10/23/2013)
By Chris Rogers
Winona County Commissioners agree the former county landfill and site of the proposed Stone Point Park is an asset, but while some leaders prize the views of Sugar Loaf's other side, the site's proximity to the Mathy's Construction quarry on Highway 43 has given others another idea.

Portions of the property directly adjacent to the Mathys Construction quarry may have similar geology to the quarry. The county buys tons and tons of gravel for road projects. If the stone was harvested for gravel for county projects it could save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, county staff suggested.

The concept was discussed at a Highway Department meeting earlier this month by commissioners Marcia Ward and Steve Jacob and County Engineer Dave Kramer.

"There are certainly some very real potential benefits to the county if the county didn't have to purchase aggregate for rocks for the roads or for paving," Jacob said.

Currently, Mathys Construction and its subsidiary Dunn Blacktop have been the only bidders on many county gravel and asphalt projects, which also require rock. While Mathys Construction does top-notch work, the added competition a county quarry would provide might save the county significant money over time, county leaders reasoned.

As a case study in potential savings, the Highway Department group discussed the recent project on County Road 30. In 2008, Dunn Blacktop was the sole bidder on the project with a bid of $1.07 million. The County Board rejected that bid. A year later, Knife River Corporation, of Rushford, happened to have won a large contract to conduct work on Highway 61 and had set up a temporary asphalt plant near Minnesota City. Knife River and Dunn Blacktop vied for the County Road 30 contract that year, and Dunn Blacktop won with a bid that was $380,000 lower than its 2008 bid. Kramer noted that competition was not the sole factor in that change; petroleum prices had dropped significantly from 2008 to 2009, but commissioners might consider "keeping their minds open as far as the Stone Point property," he said.

Spatially speaking, having a park and a quarry at the site may not be mutually exclusive, Jacob said. A small portion of the property nearest Highway 43 could be reserved for potential use as a quarry without including areas planned for active park programming, he suggested. "Is the use compatible" with a park? That is the next question, he said.

Jacob pointed out that many grants for park projects come with restrictions on land use. The county should consider the quarry idea and section the westernmost piece of the property out of the park before accepting any grants. Jacob likened ignoring the potential savings of the quarry concept and accepting grants before considering the concept to "shooting ourselves in the foot."

Kramer said that many counties own quarries. Owning the quarry does not necessarily mean the county would have to operate it; the county could hire companies to blast and crush rock, then keep it in storage, or the county could lease the quarry, he explained.

"Nothing is off the table" with the Stone Point property, said Ward. She noted that the park committee identified renting parts of the proposed park as farmland as a potential use and revenue source. "It's an asset for all the taxpayers," she added. "If it has potential for quarry aggregate we need to look at it." Still, her interest was tempered with questions about the plan. Would Wilson Township approve? Would there be enough rock to justify excavating? The first step, she said, is for staff to get a better understanding of what might be under the soil. 


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