Take a Proactive Approach with Neighbors
How one Minnesota aggregates producer took a rough permitting experience and used it as a lesson to improve and expedite the permitting process.
by Tina Grady Barbaccia, Senior Editor
When Aggregate Industries applied for a permit to expand into a neighboring community, the company had no idea what a stir it would cause. “We would get a few calls about noise but it was not a big deal,” says Bob Bieraugel, assistant vice president for Aggregates Industries. The Lakeland Mine, located in Lakeland and West Lakeland Twps., Minn., just east of St. Paul, was operating under an old permit, in a hole, with few houses nearby. “We soon realized if you get two or three calls, there are 10 times as many people that are bothered by the noise, but they are not calling.”
Bieraugel says that when he showed up for the new permit meeting, the entire parking lot was filled and the church basement, where the meeting was being held, was packed. “You needed a shoehorn to get in,” he recalls. “The neighbors were there in record numbers and not to sing our praises. The fire marshal would have had a heart attack. That’s when we pulled in our horns, backed off a bit, and called in a consultant.”
The consultant conducted door-to-door interviews with the neighbors and then presented “an unflattering report.” She advised the company to set up a neighborhood advisory group to work through the issues before returning to the permitting process.
Bieraugel and others involved in the permitting process held several meetings at the Township Chairman’s kitchen table and put together a plan that ultimately included 15 action items. Multiple action items were immediately put into effect at the mine to mitigate noise issues – such as replacing back-up alarms with rear-view cameras (until the Mine Safety and Health Administration disapproved of the cameras), followed by the installation of strobe lights, and most recently, the installation of “white noise” alarms. The company agreed to replace the operation’s primary crusher with a grizzly screen and to cover the secondary crusher’s screen. They also agreed, to crush boulders in the winter season when the windows are closed, and to move surge piles to deflect noise. “It all worked,” Bieraugel says. “When we went back to the permitting process, the crowd was down to a handful. The neighbors cautiously supported our proposal. We continued to meet for a few more years, but the number of neighbors eventually dwindled to nothing once the issues were resolved.”
That is why producers need to be proactive well before a permit is ever needed. “Do not think that applying makeup and a happy face in the season that you wish to secure a permit will win the trust of the community,” Bieraugel says. “Trust is something that grows with time – the more time, the better. The more trust and credibility you have, the easier your permitting path and the less onerous your permit conditions will be.”
Nine quick tips to obtain a mining permit
After Aggregates Industries experienced some hiccups in the permitting process, it developed several proactive steps as a way to build better relationships with communities and to make the permitting process much smoother.
- Talk to your neighbors and then talk to them some more.
- Work through as many issues as you can with the neighbors before you go to permit hearings.
- Find ways to get involved in the community. Personal involvement is far better than cash donations.
- Grow your reputation where you are because it will precede you to the next location.
- Be open and honest about your business. For example, you may want to say, “We make little rocks out of big ones and that process is noisy and dusty, but we will be the best mine neighbor we can possibly be.” Make no promises that you cannot keep.
- Invite your neighbors and officials into the mine for tours. If it is safe, get them out to watch a blast.
- Establish a neighborhood advisory committee.
- Set up a complaint management/response system. Always return calls and always take the complaints seriously.
- Try to get an annual mine planning dinner meeting started. “There are two ways to get people to come to a meeting,” Bieraugel says. “Have a good conflict/ controversy or feed them. Although dinner meetings, tours, and equipment repairs and procedural changes cost money. It is worth it, and it is money well spent.”