Survey shows opposition to 3M incinerator planCottage Grove residents questioned in poll last month oppose incinerator by two-to-one margin
A 3M proposal to begin burning hazardous waste fuel from third-party sources at its Cottage Grove incinerator has been vehemently opposed by city council members and drawn a firestorm of criticism from residents during packed public forums on the issue.
Now, opponents of the plan have numbers that show a majority of citizens agree with them.
Cottage Grove residents are against the 3M plan by an almost two-to-one margin, according to a survey commissioned by a citizens group opposed to the proposal. The survey results depict a strained relationship between city and company and show approval ratings for 3M on the decline since a survey conducted for the city in 2001.
The Decision Resources, Ltd. survey polled 306 randomly selected Cottage Grove households in mid-January. It asked them about issues related to the amendments 3M has proposed to its Minnesota Pollution Control Agency permits governing the incinerator that would allow them to import millions of pounds of non-3M waste into the facility for the first time. It also asked residents about their general feelings toward the company, which has had a presence in the city since 3M Cottage Grove began operation in 1948.
Respondents overwhelmingly opposed the 3M incinerator proposal, 57 percent to 30 percent; 35 percent strongly opposed the plan, while only 6 percent were strongly in favor of it.
The margin of error for the survey was 5.7 percent.
“To see the level of concern and opposition (to the 3M proposal) should be very alarming,” Mayor Myron Bailey said.
A citizens group, the Independent Coalition of Concerned Cottage Grove Citizens spent $5,000 to have Decision Resources conduct the survey, said group member and former 3M executive Fred Luden.
The group isn’t anti-3M, the former Cottage Grove site director and city council member said, “We’re just opposed to this one proposal.”
He added: “We believe public opinion should count.”
3M spokesperson Bill Nelson said the company believes the proposal is the right thing to do. Cutting its use of natural gas to fuel the incinerator will benefit the environment, he said.
Nelson said he doesn’t put much stock in the survey’s numbers. He did acknowledge, though, the issue had polarized “some small corners of the community.”
“3M isn’t taking the data very seriously,” he said. “What we are taking seriously is the fact we do value our reputation in the community and we will work very hard to improve that going forward.”
Since 2001, the survey shows that reputation has taken a hit in Cottage Grove. The percentage of residents polled who rated their impression of 3M as “very favorable” was halved, from 41 percent to 20 percent, in the 2010 survey. The percentage of residents with unfavorable impressions rose, from 11 percent in 2001 to 23 percent in 2010.
Those numbers, Bailey said, likely aren’t a reflection of only the controversial incinerator proposal. Displeasure with 3M’s water issues are probably driving some of the opposition to the incinerator, he said.
“Like it or not, people have tied the water issue to the incinerator issue because of the trust factor,” Bailey said.
The results were presented to city council members last week before they voted 5-0 to ban commercial incinerators in Cottage Grove.
State pollution control officials have the final say on 3M’s proposal, though, and the city’s action only prevents 3M from accepting compensation for the burning chemical wastes from outside the company at its incinerator.