Sand dune prairie gains protection under settlement

ST. PAUL (AP) — A rare sand dune prairie overlooking the Mississippi River in Cottage Grove will be protected as a nature preserve under a settlement announced Thursday with Ashland Inc. and federal and state governments.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency approved the provision as part of a settlement with Kentucky-based Ashland for past environmental violations in Kentucky, Ohio and Minnesota.
The company operates a refinery in St. Paul Park, but only a small portion of the $32.5 million settlement involves that facility.
The state has been trying to acquire the prairie site, called Grey Cloud Dunes, since 1989 to protect it.
The 1998 Legislature appropriated money to the state Department of Natural Resources to buy the land. The money will now be used to protect other sites, said Bob Djupstrom, supervisor of the DNR’s scientific and natural areas program.
“If we want our grandchildren to know what a prairie, a calcareous fen or an old growth forest looks like, we need to protect the best of what’s left now,” he said.
The site included several contaminated areas containing drums of oil sludge and refinery wastes buried there in the 1960s by the Northwestern Refining Co., which later sold the land to Ashland.
The dune prairie was discovered in 1987 during a Washington County biological survey that identified four rare plants, including purple love grass and sea-beach needle grass, on the site.