Citizen input -- and opposition -- helped shape 3M Cottage Grove's incinerator fightPollution control officials beefed up the rewritten 3M-Cottage Grove incinerator permits following more than three years of dogged opposition from some area residents.
It could have been worse.
It’s not a ringing endorsement of the permits a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency board approved last week that allow 3M to begin importing hazardous waste not produced by the company to burn at its Cottage Grove incinerator. But, following the MPCA Citizens’ Board vote that followed a lengthy hearing June 26, that was the view shared in recent interviews by some elected city officials and the leader of a group opposed to the plan.
“It’s much, much better than it would’ve been in the original permit,” said Fred Luden, the former 3M Cottage Grove site director and ex-Cottage Grove City Council member who helped lead the Coalition of Concerned Cottage Grove Citizens’ efforts to halt the change.
Pollution control officials beefed up the rewritten permits following more than three years of dogged opposition from some area residents. The permits include provisions that decrease some emissions limits, require an update to a detailed risk assessment, require stricter testing of non-3M waste both before it’s shipped to Cottage Grove and before it is incinerated. Those weren’t included in the permits as originally proposed.
It’s still a bad deal for Cottage Grove, Luden said, but “people can kind of thank the citizens’ involvement (for making) it better.”
‘Best we could do’
Cottage Grove Mayor Myron Bailey praised the Coalition for their efforts, saying that, although he doesn’t agree with 3M’s plan to import outside wastes into the city as a supplemental fuel for the incinerator, Cottage Grove residents can feel safer because of the added parameters in the facility’s new hazardous waste and emissions permits.
“Frankly, if we had the choice not to have an incinerator in Cottage Grove, I’d prefer not to have an incinerator in Cottage Grove,” Bailey said. “But, unfortunately, we have one. And this was the best we could do in the circumstances.”
3M’s proposal for the 40-year-old burner sparked stiff opposition from the city when it was publicly unveiled in April 2009. Bailey testified before a state House environmental committee to urge lawmakers to halt the permitting process in 2010 and the City Council passed a measure aimed at preventing the importation of non-3M waste.
The city dropped its formal opposition to the plan in 2010, striking a cost-share agreement with 3M for an air monitoring program after city officials determined they had no legal authority to block the incinerator changes.
3M and MPCA officials have asserted that the increase in emissions from burning non-3M waste will be minimal — up to 1 ton of extra pollution per year, pollution control agency engineers have said — and that the air quality near the incinerator is on par with other areas of the Twin Cities metro.
The first year of air monitoring results backed up that assertion, though the air quality in the metro area is lower than in many other parts of the state, MPCA statistics show.
City Council member Justin Olsen serves as the council liaison to the city’s advisory Environmental Commission that was formed in the wake of the incinerator controversy. He said officials did their best to mitigate the impact of the added hazardous waste to the community.
“It could’ve been worse,” Olsen said. “That doesn’t mean it’s good.”
3M to move forward
After more than three years of waiting, Vickie Batroot, site director at 3M Cottage Grove, said 3M is ready to move on the plan she and other company officials have asserted will save between $1 million to $2 million in fuel costs per year.
“Now we start setting up the process,” Batroot said. “To do so [before the Citizens’ Board decision] would have been premature.”
3M will need to find waste suppliers and work out the detailed logistics of analyzing and importing the new solvent wastes to Cottage Grove for incineration, she said. The company likely won’t be burning the additional waste until late this year, Batroot said.
She said the three-year delay in instituting the plan was largely due to 3M’s efforts to include the public in the permitting process, including open houses with pollution control officials and the company’s decision to put its permit renewal on hold to allow the city to form an environmental task force to study the plan.
The incinerator re-permitting was “one of the longest-running permit projects I’ve been involved with,” Batroot said. “The reason it’s been this long is because 3M is committed to hearing from citizens.”