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'A line in the sand' on commercial incinerators

Cottage Grove City Council last week continued to fight a 3M proposal to burn more hazardous waste at its corporate incinerator, classifying commercial incinerators as a prohibited use.

But the move won't impact 3M's permit application with the state to begin burning non-3M produced hazardous waste material at its Cottage Grove incinerator facility that has been in use for decades.

Company spokesperson Bill Nelson said last week 3M intends to move forward with the plan.

The zoning ordinance amendment preempts what has been the city's greatest fear surrounding the 3M proposal: that the state pollution control agency permit amendments would allow the incinerator to morph from a facility used to burn the company's own North America-produced hazardous waste into one that burns waste from outside sources for pay.

Cottage Grove now defines a commercial incinerator as a facility that sells the service of burning hazardous waste materials generated by sources other than the owner and operator of the facility.

Mayor Myron Bailey said in an interview after Wednesday's meeting -- held before a packed council chambers and the glare of television news cameras -- that the commercial incinerator ban is the extent of the city's authority in the matter.

"It takes the piece away that at least we have control over," he said of the zoning ordinance amendment.

The city has no way to stop 3M from bringing in the outside waste if the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency approves the permit amendment request. Bailey said the city would continue urging 3M to drop their proposal that has now dragged on for almost ten months.

City attorney Corrine Heine said the city's commercial incineration prohibition isn't intended to impede 3M's desire to bring in more waste -- it's meant to close the door on fears of a the incinerator turning into a commercial one.

"This is basically drawing a line in the sand and saying, 'no more,'" she said.

According to the Coalition for Responsible Waste Incineration -- a group of 25 companies who use hazardous waste combustion that includes 3M -- though, if 3M's desired permit modifications go through its incinerator may already be considered commercial.

The coalition's Website defines commercial incineration as "an incinerator owned and operated by a waste management firm in which wastes may be burned for a fee."

Pollution control officials have said the agency does not differentiate between commercial and non-commercial facilities in its permitting.

The proposal would mean a small increase in emissions from the incinerator, the pollution control agency says, with the facility's annual emissions still well below permitted limits.

And 3M's Nelson contends the plan would actually be an environmental benefit.

"The broader issue is: don't we, as a society, want to use less non-renewable fuels?" Nelson said in an interview. "That's a good thing, that's why we believe this is a good proposal."

Fred Luden, a former 3M executive who now is a member of a Cottage Grove citizens group opposing the incinerator proposal, scoffed at that idea.

He said the changes would allow 3M to truck in and burn more fuel-grade liquid hazardous waste, and emit more pollutants into the air over Cottage Grove.

"How is that good for the environment?" Luden asked.