THREAT #1: PERMANENT DESTRUCTION OF NATIVE AMERICAN ARTIFACTS
The St. Croix River has been known for thousands of years by the Dakota people as Hogan Wanke Kin, or “the place where the fish lies,” a reference to a legend originating from—among other places—the well-known Wisconsin sandbar known as Catfish Bar (pictured right), directly across the river from the mouth of Valley Creek and the City of Afton, Minnesota. In June 1883, the archaeologist T. H. Lewis located and surveyed the Rattlesnake effigy mound in Afton.
The association between the presence of the Dakota in this area of the mouth of Valley Creek on the St. Croix river, and the Catfish Bar legend that provided their name for the river, is all the more significant given that the Afton Rattlesnake effigy and Catfish Bar lie across the river from each other and—a little further to the west on the Afton side—the tips of Native American pointing trees stretch out towards both landmarks.
The point must be made that the area of Dakota cultural significance around Afton is much larger than the mound site itself. It also includes the Catfish Bar, the mouth of Valley Creek, the pointing trees, and other areas likely within and immediately adjacent to the proposed treatment facility.
The presence of the known quartet of natural and man-made spiritual markers in this small geographical area suggests this section of the river is as potentially significant to the Dakota people as Jerusalem is to Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Without a full archaeological survey of the Native American presence in the area, there is a danger that an important cultural history will be destroyed irrevocably.
The Rattlesnake Mound was a main source of concern in the initial stages of this campaign, as Afton’s plans showed several sewage pipes being drilled through its outline. It appears the hard work carried out during tribal consultation with Afton appears to be moving in the right direction—preserving the Rattlesnake Mound. Afton recently announced that it would be avoiding any construction near the main body of the mound, rerouting pipes away from the mound, and having a smaller stormwater pond! Victory!
The main area of concern now shifts to the sewage drainage field planned for a hill above Valley Creek, likely to permanently destroy Native American cultural artifacts. A survey of a nearby location by Rothaus, 2008 (mentioned in Afton-contracted Blondo Consulting’s report pictured below) reported unusually high concentration of artifacts.
Valley Creek is documented as an area untouched by glaciers, therefore unchanged for hundreds of thousands of years. Historically, the area was heavily occupied by native tribes for thousands of years, as the creek was a natural gathering spot due to the creek running pure drinking water all year round.
Ken Martens, author of the book, The Perilous St. Croix River Valley Frontier, testified to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on 23 June 2015 that artifacts will inevitably be found on the drainage field site. Watch the video at protectvalleycreek.info/video/ or watch it below:
THREAT #2: POLLUTING VALLEY CREEK AND THE SAINT CROIX RIVER
The City of Afton’s project proposal avoids addressing major issues. The sewage drainage field component of the overall project is situated within 300 feet of Valley Creek, giving the location an official designation of protected “shoreland”. No explanation has been given by Afton as to what will be done to comply with shoreline ordinances, or how the groundwater wells—also just 300 feet away from the drainage field (see May 2013 plan, pictured right)—will be protected from chemical or hazardous waste introduced through wastewater systems.
The Valley Creek sewage septic site is arguably the worst possible location to have chosen. The sewage lines run almost two miles upstream and cross three healthy and clean streams. The location is a ticking time bomb that—when it explodes—will create an environmental and economic disaster that will persist for generations.
Many pollutants could be introduced into the ground water, including pharmaceuticals, micro pollutants, and chemicals accidentally poured down the drain by businesses and restaurants, and careless residential use.
Afton’s project proposal similarly fails to address how increased volumes or change in effluent quality will be accommodated by the site/system. From an environmental perspective, the sewage field will inevitably overflow at some point in the future during heavy rains, creating environmental devastation.
The community of Lake Edith, the lake that feeds Valley Creek, has just been awarded $1.2 million for clean-up from the State, and have already put over a million into clean-up. Meanwhile, downstream, Afton is sinking $10 million into polluting Valley Creek.
During heavy rains, all bets are off. In 2014, the MPCA gave permission to the City of Mound to release raw sewage into Lake Minnetonka during a period of heavy rain to avoid sewage backup into residents’ homes. This resulted in the lake being polluted by E. coli bacteria, making it unsafe to swim or fish in.
The Afton project, even during normal operations, is expected to increase nitrogen levels in the water to the maximum permitted by law, 10 mg/L. Think about this plan: Even before we consider the impact of heavy rains, the plan is to pollute the creek to the maximum level allowed by law.
The environmental pollution in the event of excess nitrates (most commonly originating from fertilizers) could be potentially lethal. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states that “Infants below the age of six months who drink water containing nitrite in excess of the MCL could become seriously ill and, if untreated, may die. Symptoms include shortness of breath and blue-baby syndrome.”
Remember that these are minimum requirements and are not proven to be safe. Hydrologist Stu Grub from Oakdale-based environmental consulting and water resources engineering firm Emmons & Olivier Resources states that that the 300 feet setbacks still aren’t enough for safe drinking water.
At the beginning of the project, Afton failed to survey a number of wells on the site. In the May 2013 project plans (map on previous page), Afton had ignored a number of wells. The new September 2014 project plans (pictured right) show wells added to the right side of the map, which shrinks the original area available to a mere two acre plot of usable space. Alarmingly, this map that shows the new wells, was introduced after the project plans had already progressed past the vetting stage into approval.
Both the existing and overlooked wells serve as entry points into the regional water aquifer if any sewage overflows due to heavy rain. The design was intended for a rural farm field in the middle of nowhere, far away from wells, and far away from a protected creek. Not within a few hundred feet of them.
Afton did not adequately address alternative site locations. Many other potentially feasible sites within the City of Afton were not considered. The existing site was selected primarily because there was a willing seller, which does not constitute adequate research for the project from an environmental perspective.
There are numerous options available. Afton must move the planned septic site in a location that does not cross three streams with sewage pipes, that is far from drinking wells, and which cannot spill and overflow into Valley Creek in the event of heavy rains. There are simple, cheap, environmentally sound alternatives that will not have a negative impact on our water.
Instead of setting itself up for environmental disaster, Afton has an opportunity to become the greenest city in the state by implementing affordable, innovative, environmentally friendly septic solutions.
CALL FOR ACTION
Contact Mayor Richard Bend of the City of Afton today (contact details below) and demand that the City find an alternative location for the sewage drainage field, based on:
The planned sewage drainage field is too close to Valley Creek and local wells which, during unexpectedly heavy rains, is highly likely to pollute both the Valley Creek and St. Croix River waterways and wells in the immediate vicinity as happened to the City of Mound—which will contaminate the drinking water aquifer for the region. 300 feet is not enough distance. Afton’s mistake in the original May 2013 plan for the sewage drainage field has resulted in an even less viable site, where even more fresh water wells are threatened.
Due to this remote location, the pipes to the sewage drainage field needlessly run two miles uphill and cross three streams before reaching the field. A solution is needed that does not expose the waterways to danger from contamination and pollution.
Rothaus’ 2008 archaeological survey in a nearby location to the proposed sewage drainage field, unearthed an unusually high number of Native American artifacts, which will be destroyed during construction. Ken Martens reported during his June 23, 2015 testimony to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency that out of the 200 holes dug in the archeological survey across the creek from the proposed sewage drainage field, 1500-year-old artifacts were found in 160 of them, an unheard of 80%. This important native archaeological treasure must be protected at all costs.
Contact Minnesotan political representatives today!
Right: Afton’s original plans for drilling pipes were altered by a prolonged campaign of tribal and allied interventions. The pipes will now be rerouted around the mound, and the size of the stormwater pond has been decreased, to avoid disturbing the mound. Victory!