Current request recalls incinerator's inception
3M Co.'s push to begin burning third-party hazardous waste in its Cottage Grove incinerator has a familiar ring to Conway Olson -- the longtime resident was a member of the village council in early 1970 when the city's largest employer proposed construction of the waste burner.
His concerns then echo those of the current council nearly 40 years later, Olson said last week: "If you give them an inch they'll take a yard -- or a mile."
City officials say they're worried approval by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency of the 3M proposal will mean a loss of any regulation of whose waste is being incinerated at the 3M Cottage Grove plant. That, officials say, could open the door to a commercial incinerator being operated on the site.
3M officials have repeatedly dismissed that concern as speculative, saying turning the burner that incinerates solvent-based wastes from 3M operations across North America into a commercial facility isn't the company's intention.
But Olson says in 1970, 3M originally approached the city looking to build a burner to incinerate both company-manufactured and non-3M waste alike. Then, as now, Cottage Grove leaders tried to slow the process that 3M officials were keen to expedite.
The city eventually issued the equivalent of a conditional use permit allowing 3M to construct the incinerator. But whether the permit gives Cottage Grove officials any control over the proposal is unclear, city administrator Ryan Schroeder said.
"A city typically has authority over land use," the city administrator said, "not operating issues."
'What's the next step?'
What is clear, pollution control officials said last week, is that the increase in emissions as a result of the 3M plan would be small.
Trevor Shearen, an air quality engineer with the agency, called the increase in particulate matter emissions "incredibly small." He estimated the rise in emissions of particulate matter from the 3M incinerator at less than a half-ton.
Those numbers are "actually pretty low," Shearen said, in comparison with similar incinerator facilities. The Cottage Grove incinerator, he said, is "a very efficient incinerator."
"It might not be clear to everybody that these toxins are actually being destroyed by the incinerator," he said. "This is probably the most effective way to get rid of this waste."
Shearen, though, also said 3M's current emissions cap for the Cottage Grove incinerator is much higher -- meaning the company could significantly increase the amount of waste being incinerated. That is a serious point of concern to city officials.
"Once this group is gone from 3M, what if they continue to have monetary issues?" Cottage Grove Mayor Myron Bailey said. "What's the next step? The (Minnesota Pollution Control Agency) cannot dictate payment or non-payment; once this goes through, any way of ceasing these things stops. Once you let this out of the bag, we have no more control."