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Threat of industrial zoning in state park proves controversial

<ecent months, Rice County has seen much debate surrounding the possibility of the re-zoning of Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park and the allowance of light industrialization, and on Tuesday the Board of Commissioners discussed the issue. The board denied the proposal of Pyrotechnics to house fireworks and related products in the area by with a 5-0 vote. While the possibility of re-zoing the northeast corner of the park has not been overruled, the Commissioners have the final word on the Pyrotechnics proposal, which follows another unanimous denial by the Planning Commission in January.
“Basically, it [the industrial housing unit] was totally different from what’s in the area,” board member Jake Gillen said. “There’s agricultural lands on one side and woods on the other side. It didn’t fit in.”
Pyrotechnics and Special Effects Products manufactures fireworks and related products and small explosives in China. The products are later housed and tested in rural areas of the United States before being sold for entertainment use. The company currently has a housing unit in Elko Minnesota. The proposal to place another unit in the northeast corner of the Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park is the second that the committee has presented to Rice County.

“They came to us a year ago, with another proposal, which was turned down at that time too,” Gillen said. “They feel that it’s a great location…They want to test fire some of these fireworks. They want to test 100 different kinds out of 1000.”

Doug Kilmeyer, the current owner of the northeast corner of the park, is selling the area and seeks to re-zone it so that it advantages the new potential owner. The potential re-zoning site is currently an agricultural zone, although it has seen limestone mining for decades. The re-zoning of the park would permit light industry to occur in the area so that companies like Pyrotechnics could move in.
Controversy has been surrounding the issue of re-zoning the Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park for more than a year. Many members of the community fear such a change would be environmentally harmful to the Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park, a 2,882-acre forested area covering much of central Minnesota, known for its limestone bedrock, remarkable forest, native wildflowers, and “Hidden Falls.”
Jay and Kirsten Johnson of Nerstrand fear that light-industrialization will be to “the disadvantage of all those from the country, state, and beyond who treasure this park.” In light of the debate, the pair calls attention to chapter 4 of the Comprehensive Plan which states: “forest lands are another priority for protection… and the Big Woods State Park constrains most of this treasured resource. Rice County encourages the reforestation around this area and for other scattered sites as a method to promote the survival of the Big Woods. Development in and around these areas will have to be evaluated to best protect the resource and possibly enhance the forest.”

The Johnsons go on to encourage community. “Let’s honor the work of many who have put time and expertise into these documents and re-zone only when it furthers the goals and principles on which they are based,” they said.

Despite environmental concerns, Gillen said that opposition to Pyrotechnics in was not much of a problem to Nerstrand, and that he perceived support for the company. “I heard of a lot of people in favor of going into it,” Gillen said. “It would hire up to six people, which would create six new jobs. When you look at the community of Nerstrand, which has less than two hundred people, six jobs is kind of a big deal. Percentage-wise, it is a good thing for the area.”

According to Gillen, the decision to deny Pyrotechnic’s proposal was based not on community opinion but rather on the inconvenience of location and the terms of the contract. Gillen said the board feared that the new contract would revoke all control of the area from the community. “Once they’re in there, you can’t put any conditions on them other than what the original ordinance says. They’re in there and they’re not going away, and there’s nothing we can do if they’re abusing the rules. I’m not saying they’re going to do that, but they could.”

Pyrotechnics will continue the pursuit of moving into the Nerstrand area. Gillen said that Pyrotechnics is already considering another proposal. “They told us on Tuesday that they’re not planning to go away,” Gillen said.

While Pyrotechnics will not be settling into Northfield for now, the Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park still face re-zoning for industrial purposes.

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