Location: Cass County, Minnesota
Client: R.D. Offutt Company
To ensure a sufficient land base for potato production, R.D. Offutt Company (RDO) and one of their partners purchased commercial forest lands in rural Cass County. Their proposed project involved converting nearly 1,500 acres of commercial forest to an irrigated agricultural land use. Because of the size of the land conversion, and environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) was required. The area is also adjacent to state and county forest lands and is rich in water resources. The local public did have concerns over the change in land use and the project had the potential for surface and groundwater interaction as well as heightened irrigation activity.
The project required a significant level of coordination with County staff and planning commission, as Cass County was the local governmental unit ultimately responsible for deciding whether an environmental impact statement (EIS), a more complex process, was required.
In 2012, HEI worked with the R.D. Offutt Company to complete the EAW, submit documents to be published by the County, coordinate with County staff, review public comments, develop responses to comments for inclusion in the decision record, and support the applicant at the public hearing.
HEI researched and compiled natural resources information and assembled GIS databases and mapping to help in the assessment process. We also worked with the client to develop a project description and purpose and need statement.
Our review identified the presence of sensitive ecological resources in the vicinity of the site, including Vasey’s Pondweed (special concern) and Blanding’s Turtle (threatened) as well as concerns related to wetlands and water resources. HEI assessed the potential for the project to affect these resources, provided advice on mitigation strategies, and helped document existing management/operational practices that reduced or eliminated potential effects to the resources of concern.
HEI coordinated with the client and county staff to develop responses to public and agency comments. The EAW was approved and provided an acceptable level of detail and documentation for Cass County to determine that the potential for environmental effects was not significant and an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was not required.