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Debate over 3M burner heats up

Cottage Grove residents delivered impassioned arguments against the hotly debated 3M plan to begin burning third-party waste at its corporate incinerator in Cottage Grove on Monday night during a sometimes-fiery forum hosted by a concerned citizens group.

Residents expressed their fears and frustrations with the almost year-old 3M proposal, and vented their anger at the company and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency over the plan that 3M has said would save the company up to $2 million per year, but that multiple speakers said held no benefit to the city of Cottage Grove.

The meeting, sponsored the Independent Coalition of Concerned Cottage Grove Citizens, invited more than a dozen local, county and state officials to listen to the coalition and other residents air their opposition to the 3M plan.

And listen they did: for almost three hours, the coalition defended a community survey released last month that showed residents opposed the incinerator plan by a two-to-one margin, residents shuffled to the lectern in Cottage Grove City Hall's council chambers to express their objections, and audience members volleyed questions at area lawmakers and a pollution control agency representative in attendance.

Resistance to the plan isn't a case of a 'not-in-my-backyard' mentality, said former Cottage Grove Mayor Sandy Shiely, who stepped away from public office in January 2009, but spoke out publicly Monday.

"The 3M incinerator is already in our backyard, and it has been for 40 years," she told the standing room-only crowd. It's not, she said, that residents want to prevent 3M from operating its incinerator. The city just doesn't want any more waste trucked into town.

"In my viewpoint," she said, "our backyard is now full."

3M spokesperson Bill Nelson said in an interview the company has been responsive to public sentiment on the issue since the incinerator proposal first went public last April, including agreeing to postpone the permitting process to allow the city to form an environmental task force last summer.

It is unfortunate the incinerator plan has become so divisive, he said, and the company hopes to put the issue behind them. But, he added: 3M remains committed to this project and we'd like to see it through at the MPCA level.

Former Cottage Grove City Council member and 3M Cottage Grove site director Fred Luden has helped spearhead the opposition movement against 3M's plan to supplement its declining supply of hazardous chemical waste with waste from an outside source.

He compared the 3M proposal to buying a larger car and not being able to afford the gas.

3M have maintained that the permit amendments would not cause a significant increase in emissions and that the company has no intention of turning the corporate incinerator into a commercial facility.

City officials passed a zoning amendment banning commercial incineration last month in an effort to alleviate those fears. City leaders say they are already in discussion over how to tighten the ordinance further.

There was one voice in support of the incinerator at Monday night's forum: Roland Anderson, a lead operator at the 3M Cottage Grove incinerator for more than two decades said he believed much of the opposition to the plan comes from "a real lack of understanding" of how the burner works.

"There are leftover feelings from the water quality and landfill issues," he said, referring to the discovery of 3M manufactured chemicals in area drinking water roughly four years ago, "rather than being about the incinerator issue."