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Environmental assessment gets OK from Afton City Council

The book has finally closed on the paper maze that is the Environmental Assessment Worksheet for the Afton Center project.

The Afton City Council approved a negative declaration, or stated it adequate, at its Feb. 17 meeting.

The Afton Center EAW is a detailed assessment of all of the effects the proposed Afton Center project, a GJ&M proposed 48 luxury condo units and 12 retail spaces over three city blocks in downtown Afton.

The information outlined in the EAW includes project facts, such as location, the magnitude, required permits, and zoning requirements and the effects the project will have on such areas as, water resources, soil, traffic, air quality, visual impacts, historical and architectural impacts, infrastructure and any and all other potential environmental impacts.

The EAW was first presented to the council on Nov. 18 and has since gone through multiple presentations, drafts and a public comment period.

During the Feb. 17 meeting, the council was presented with and discussed with George Johnson, a representative of SEH, the comments they had received regarding the EAW.

Johnson informed the council that the majority of the comments that they received from the various agencies -- including the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Metropolitan Council, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Sierra Club --were questions that could not be answered until the project moves forward into the permitting phase.

"There weren't any substantive comments," Johnson said.

Johnson also informed the Council that they did not receive any comments from the citizens who initially petitioned for the EAW, unless they were part of one of the agencies.

A concern that almost halted the approval of the EAW was a question that dealt with the visual impacts the project would have on the community. For whether or not the Afton Center would have any adverse visual effects, the EAW answered "No."

Councilmember Randy Nelson said he would not feel comfortable saying that there were no visual impacts of the project since a large complex of this sort would be a significant impact on rural Afton.

Johnson informed the council that the term "adverse impacts," refers to grossly inappropriate visual impacts such as cooling towers and other large structures of similar degree.

Mitch Converse, the city attorney, offered advice to the council that even though they are inclined to, they can not look at the EAW from a small town perspective.

"You can't look at this strictly from the Afton universe," he said.

If the council had not approved the EAW as adequate, they could have requested an Environmental Impact Statement, which is a much larger and more detailed form of the EAW.

The remaining questions and concerns the council has about the project will be discussed and addressed once the project moves forward into the permitting phase.

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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