Developer plan includes wetlands protection

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 3, 2006

By Kari Lucin, staff writer

Plans for the development of a new Flying J truck stop at the intersection of County Road 46 and Interstate 35 include extensive wetland management precautions.

&8220;In today’s environment, the developer has to take the lead to have a comprehensive environmental protection plan,&8221; said developer Dick Argue of Stonehedge Land Development.

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The Flying J may provide another anchor point for more business development of the area on the east side of town between Home Depot and Wal-Mart, Argue said.

Initially, 73 people will be employed at the truck stop, but Argue hopes more businesses will move into the area, especially after the city constructs a previously planned inverted-L-shaped road connecting Blake Avenue with County Road 46.

Flying J will spend $5 to $10 million on the first phase of its project, the truck stop itself. A hotel and other extensions to the site will follow if the business goes well.

Local engineering company Jones, Haugh and Smith is working with Argue and Flying J to create a plan to preserve the wetlands in the area during and after construction.

The planned road, called Consul Street on Argue’s maps, would displace one acre of wetland and isolate a 2.34 acre wetland, leaving it unhealthy. Instead of trying to maintain that small wetland, Argue plans to build over it and create five acres of new wetlands nearby.

&8220;We tend to look at the big wetlands and do everything we can to make them flourish, and then the little tiny ones that are going to suffer and fade away, we sometimes mitigate those and do a replacement,&8221; Argue said.

Laws require that each acre of wetland destroyed must be replaced with two acres elsewhere.

The larger wetland next to the proposed Flying J site is owned by the city of Albert Lea.

According to Argue, it is in decline, partly because it is acting like a stormwater pond, filling up with agricultural chemicals and sediment from the fields.

The Flying J’s plan is to scrape away the sediment, helping restore the existing wetland. Then it will be extended south 2.61 acres as part of the replacement of the 2.34 acres destroyed in the construction process. To prevent surface water from running back into the newly restored wetland, a buffer will be built around it.

Four landowners are cooperating with each other and the city to build 7.5 acres of stormwater retention ponds in the area that will help filter chemicals and sediment, preventing them from getting into the wetland.

Of course, it all costs money.

&8220;From an environmental point of view, that’s important,&8221; Argue said. &8220;You need to have somebody who wants to do the right thing and is willing to spend the money to do it.&8221;