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'Enough is enough' group of CG residents tells task force

Just say no.

Cottage Grove Environmental Task Force members heard that message often Wednesday during an emotional forum held to gather public input on the 3M Co. proposal to begin burning non-3M hazardous waste at its corporate incinerator in Cottage Grove.

Nearly 50 residents joined the task force, local elected officials and 3M representatives at the meeting, and most who spoke made clear their views to the volunteer group studying 3M's proposed amendments to its Minnesota Pollution Control Agency permits that govern the four-decade-old hazardous waste incinerator.

"Do not bring more crap into our area for us to breathe," resident Trish Thompson said to the sound of applause in crowded city council chambers. Thompson said she has lived in the Pine Coulee neighborhood in southern Cottage Grove, near the 3M Cottage Grove plant, for 39 years.

3M officials in May suspended the amendment request that would allow the company to supplement 3M-produced solvent waste it burns in the Cottage Grove incinerator with waste from an outside source. Already, the incinerator burns hazardous waste from 3M facilities across North America.

The proposal would not change permitted emissions limits, and pollution control officials have said the changes would not cause a significant increase in the incinerator's emission levels.

But an irritated group on Wednesday told the task force it saw no benefit to the city in agreeing to go along with 3M's desired changes. Many cited Cottage Grove water contaminated with 3M-produced perfluorochemicals as an example of why the city's largest employer can't be trusted.

The task force next month will deliver a recommendation to Cottage Grove City Council members on whether or not to oppose 3M's proposed amendments.

On Wednesday, they heard from a mostly indignant crowd. Some cried. Others said they would move if the pollution control agency approves the permit changes. One resident called the incinerator proposal "audacious" in light of the PFC issue.

3M spokesman Bill Nelson said after the forum that residents may be marrying two separate issues -- PFC contamination and the incinerator -- in their anger at the company's desire to burn non-3M hazardous waste as a replacement for supplementary natural gas and oil being used now due to a drop in solvent waste the company makes.

"No question that the PFC issue is on people's minds," Nelson said. "I guess there's a little bit of confusion."

Nelson also said it was important to note the four dozen-or-so residents didn't represent a wide swath of the community. He called the attendees "a small group of people with some very sincere feelings."

Cottage Grove Mayor Myron Bailey said he wasn't surprised by the anger at Wednesday's forum, nor the frequent mentions of contaminated wells and bottled water, both remnants of the city's ongoing water contamination issue.

The issues aren't directly linked, he said, "but there's a trust issue there."

Or, as John Swenson, another resident who lives near the 3M Cottage Grove campus, said: "Enough is enough."