Residents of Fredenberg Lake outside Duluth are suing to stop a gravel pit from opening on 40 acres, which for years had been a residential lake property.

The lawsuit, filed last week in District Court in Duluth, seeks an injunction against Lakehead Trucking, Inc. “from excavation and operation of the property as a gravel or borrow pit.”

The lawsuit also seeks to have St. Louis County and its mostly civilian planning commission nullify the conditional use permit granted to Lakehead Trucking in May 2020.

“We went through the lowest routes possible, appealing to the owners, the township and the county, and no one would listen to us,” Fredenberg Lake resident Melissa Bell said. “This was our last resort.”

Bell and two others are listed as plaintiffs in the civil suit, along with unknown others dubbed “friends of Fredenberg” — people who Bell said feared reprisals.

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(Gary Meader / gmeader@duluthnews.com)
(Gary Meader / gmeader@duluthnews.com)

“Everybody talks about us as the minority group,” Bell said. “But we’re not. There are a few bullies trying to make it seem like they’re the majority.”

The lawsuit follows more than a year of acrimony and lengthy public meetings surrounding the property at 6464 Fredenberg Lake Road, which was sold by Mark and Brenda Toms for $565,000 to Lakehead Trucking last year, according to a St. Louis County property details report. The home and land were assessed at $236,100 in 2020.

The lawsuit quotes Matthew Johnson, the county’s planning and community development director, as saying he “would like to throat punch a few people right now,” following the May hearing that saw approval of the permit. It’s not clear who he was targeting with the comment. When asked about the comment and the lawsuit, the county declined to respond, saying it wouldn’t address pending litigation.

PREVIOUSLY: Hearing for gravel pit outside Duluth ends with delayed vote

An access road near the property at 6464 Fredenberg Lake Road seen on Monday, July 12, 2021, in Fredenberg Township north of Duluth. A proposed gravel pit is planned for the property. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
An access road near the property at 6464 Fredenberg Lake Road seen on Monday, July 12, 2021, in Fredenberg Township north of Duluth. A proposed gravel pit is planned for the property. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

The trucking outfit has since logged the property, while not yet starting its pit operation. Lakehead Trucking, operating the pit as LTI Holdings, LLC, did not respond for comment.

Documents related to the conditional use permit show the proposed gravel pit would be within 500 feet of the nearest home, and that more than 25 trucks a day would haul out of the pit up to six days a week. It also calls for recycling asphalt provided a “mix plant” could be brought in.

The township board voted last year to close township roads to gravel haulers. The move impacted some of the access to the proposed pit, but proved futile to stop it.

The Town of Fredenberg features mixed-use zoning for all of its properties, and the county planning commission last year cited concern for precedent-setting had it listened to opponents and denied the permit.

An aerial illustration shows the property at 6464 Fredenberg Lake Road in relation to the lake and surrounding properties. (Illustration provided by Friends of Fredenberg)
An aerial illustration shows the property at 6464 Fredenberg Lake Road in relation to the lake and surrounding properties. (Illustration provided by Friends of Fredenberg)

The lawsuit seeks to illustrate how noise, dust and heavy equipment traffic in and out of the pit “substantially interferes with the Fredenberg plaintiffs’ enjoyment of life and property.” It notes the pit’s proximity along the lake, and the risk of sediment runoff impacting the quality of water.

The lawsuit also cites technicalities, suggesting the county planning commission ought to void the permit due to existing septic noncompliance at the residence. It also notes how Lakehead was forced to pay a $23,000 civil penalty to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency this year following inspections that showed Lakehead was “daylighting” floor drain waste by allowing truck-washing runoff to flow into soils rather than a proper disposal system.

Bell described the group of people seeking the injunction as a variety of folks from all political stripes and economic levels.

“Some people will have to move,” Bell said. “It’s not a joke. Because of the proximity to their house and the noise, fumes and dust, it would just blow right up to their houses. It would not work for them to stay there.”

An access road near the property at 6464 Fredenberg Lake Road seen on Monday, July 12, 2021, in Fredenberg Township north of Duluth. A proposed gravel pit is planned for the property. Area residents claim the pit infringes on their lives with noise, dust and heavy equipment traffic, and that it's a risk to harm the nearby Fredenberg Lake. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
An access road near the property at 6464 Fredenberg Lake Road seen on Monday, July 12, 2021, in Fredenberg Township north of Duluth. A proposed gravel pit is planned for the property. Area residents claim the pit infringes on their lives with noise, dust and heavy equipment traffic, and that it's a risk to harm the nearby Fredenberg Lake. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)