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Citizens coalition, 3M won't take part in forum

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A public forum Wednesday night that was supposed to bring together major players in the more than year-long debate over 3M Co.'s planned changes at its corporate incinerator in Cottage Grove will be missing some key parties after a citizens' coalition opposed to the plan said it would not participate and a 3M spokesperson said the company's engagement was unlikely.

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Cottage Grove officials pitched the community meeting as a way to dispel fears surrounding the 3M plan to amend its Minnesota Pollution Control Agency permits governing its incinerator to, for the first time, begin burning hazardous chemical waste not produced by the company.

An air monitoring agreement between the city and company awaits city council approval at an Aug. 11 meeting.

The Coalition of Concerned Cottage Grove Citizens, invited to the meeting by city officials, backed out in a statement Friday, saying, "We do not see any value in being put into a position where it looks like we have been a participant in previous meetings and are in agreement with increasing risk and emissions to our community."

In the statement, the coalition said it had not been involved in talks between 3M and the city that hashed out details of the deal that would have Cottage Grove drop its formal opposition to 3M's plan in return for 3M agreeing to help cover the costs of three years of independent air monitoring near the 3M Cottage Grove campus.

Cottage Grove Mayor Myron Bailey said he hopes to clear up "misinformation" at the forum. The meeting, he said, is to "talk about this, explain the proposal, so everyone can hear what it is all about."

Residents won't be able to speak at the meeting, a change from past forums where attendees emotionally and vehemently expressed their opposition to 3M's plan. Instead, individuals can submit questions to city officials before the meeting through Cottage Grove's Facebook page or on index cards before the meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Cottage Grove Middle School.

But without 3M's participation in the meeting, and with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's participation limited to general conditions of permits and the permitting process, it's unclear what exactly residents will take from the meeting.

Council member Justin Olsen questioned the forum's value, saying: "The whole point was get answers straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak. That's hard to do if some of the horses are missing."

3M spokesman Bill Nelson said it is unlikely the company will participate in the forum. The company has concerns over the format of the meeting and also that its objectives "are just not very clear," he said.

"We're not sure what the purpose is on Wednesday night in terms of offering another public forum when these issues have been debated already," Nelson said.

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