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Mayor wants it guaranteed: no commercial incineration

Cottage Grove Mayor Myron Bailey said he will not vote to approve a list of recommendations issued last week by a task force that studied proposed amendments to 3M's hazardous waste incinerator permits without an agreement to insert language permanently prohibiting commercial incineration at the site.

The mayor was quick to praise members of the city's Task Force on the Environment for its nearly three months of study on the incinerator proposal -- which would see 3M begin burning chemical waste not produced by the company in its Cottage Grove incinerator -- and the handful of recommendations it sent last week to city council members for approval at Wednesday's meeting.

But Bailey said on Friday he favors a more binding agreement to prohibit 3M from accepting compensation for burning outside chemical waste at the Cottage Grove site. That could be achieved by reopening the special land use permit the city granted for the incinerator in 1970 and adding language barring commercial incineration.

Task force members narrowly rejected that proposal last week, instead recommending an agreement that would forbid 3M from receiving compensation for burning non-3M hazardous waste through at least the incinerator's required 2015 re-permitting.

3M representatives said last week they would agree to that condition.

"It goes back to the trust factor again," Bailey said by phone from Chicago, where he and three other city officials attended a retail convention last week. "If they're willing to (amend permits) with the (pollution control agency), if everything is kosher and up front, then why wouldn't they want to do it with the city? I look at it as a great opportunity for them to show their openness."

3M resists reopening land use permit

3M officials balked at reopening the special use permit last week, though, saying the company was not interested in altering the 39-year-old document. Howard Blin, Cottage Grove's community development director, said reopening a special land use permit is rare.

"We, as a corporation, don't feel we can speak for future leadership of the company," said Vicki Batroot, site director of the 3M Cottage Grove plant. "The landscape, business conditions -- many, many things -- surely will be different two-to-five years from now."

Cottage Grove's only regulatory power lies in the almost 40-year-old special land use permit granted by the city.

Task force chair Matthew Porett led the push to formally request reopening the permit to include a condition that would prevent 3M from operating the facility as a commercial incinerator.

"I approve the five-year agreement," Porett said, "but if there's truly no intent (to operate the incinerator commercially) I don't see it as prohibitive" to reopen the special use permit.

Because pollution control agency permits must be renewed every five years, proposed language prohibiting commercial incineration could be removed.

But, Batroot said, any effort to again alter the permits would be conducted through the same public process that first involved Cottage Grove leaders and residents in the current incinerator discussion.

Task force a success?

3M first publicly announced the proposed amendments in April. Outcry from Cottage Grove residents and local leaders spurred 3M to voluntarily suspend the permitting process. That allowed the environmental task force's formation in May.

Company spokesman Bill Nelson contended in an interview that the company has been open and transparent with the city, and that the company is pleased with the outcome of the task force's deliberations.

"The overriding point is the City of Cottage Grove does not have permitting authority over this issue, and 3M respects the city of Cottage Grove, its leaders, and its residents," Nelson said. "And out of that respect, we voluntarily postponed action on our (Minnesota Pollution Control Agency) permit within the city of Cottage Grove, and that's why we believe the process worked."

Despite his warning, Bailey also said the task force process has been a success, giving city officials and residents a platform to express their concerns over the plan that drew harsh criticism from many attendees at a September public forum.

"As long as I'm mayor, and I'm assuming with the current council, we'll make sure we're much more involved in the process," Bailey said.