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Preston City Council Report: Heartland denied building permit once again

Fri, Nov 7th, 2003
Posted in Features

On a dreary, rainy Monday evening the Preston City Council faced a busy agenda. The council members maintained a business-like attitude with strained civility. The public attending the council meeting because of the proposed Heartland plant feel strongly whether they are for or against. From where I sit, over time curiosity has grown into hardened opinions, resentment and an under current of ill will.

Robert Maust speaking for his wife Elaine and Heartland Energy and Recycling, LLC, read into the record his statement opposing any moratorium on issuing building permits. In a backhanded fashion he threatened to sue the City if a moratorium was imposed, stating that the moratorium will probably be overturned by the courts. Maust was not alone in his opposition to a moratorium. Daniel Christianson of F&M Community Bank also voiced his disapproval in a letter to the council. Christianson didnt oppose changes to the ordinances, but only the possible moratorium which he believes would constitute a continuation of our current cycle of bad government carrying out bad policy.

Robert Sauer, the newly appointed council member who had suggested the moratorium, admitted that virtually all of the contractors that he had consulted felt it would be bad for building in Preston if a moratorium is allowed. The council moved on seemingly letting the idea fade away.

Maust stated that they had filed for the balance of their necessary permits for the construction of the entire Heartland facility this day. He warned the council if the Heartland plant is delayed, our damages will be significant including lost profits, lost tax benefits, additional construction costs and attorney fees. He asked the council to reconsider and issue the building permit.

Councilman Jerry Scheevel moved that the city administrator be directed to issue the building permit immediately. Council member Heath Mensink seconded. City administrator, Fred Nagel, read an e-mail received from Mary Tietjen, the citys attorney for the Heartland matter. It was her attempt to clarify her statement of October 24, 2003, which read, Therefore, unless the City can show that it has some basis upon which to deny a building permit or condition it upon approval of all other operational permits, it is my opinion that the City should grant the permit.

She went on to say that it was her intention to advise the City that it must have a legal basis to deny the permit. The city needs to demonstrate that Heartland doesnt meet certain criteria in the citys ordinances or other applicable laws.

Council member, Mike McGarvey stated that he felt that there still was need for more clarification. Councilman Scheevel asked, How many opinions do you need before you get one you like?

Fred Nagle who had spoken earlier on the phone to Tietjen said that she explained that she could not find anything in the ordinances that would give reason to deny the permit. Mayor Pechulis suggested that she be instructed to make her e-mails more complete.

Scheevel asked, Do we have a legal basis? meaning a legal basis to deny?

McGarvey explained that he didnt think it was prudent to issue a building permit when there was a pending law suit.

Southeastern Minnesotans for Environmental Protection (SEMEP) appealed the Minnesota Pollution Control Agencys (MPCA) decision not to require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS); the appeal is scheduled to be heard in Rochester on December 2. The city council voted to intervene with SEMEP at their October 20 meeting. At this time Preston has not been notified by the court as to whether its intervention has been accepted. Pechulis suggested tabling the issue, causing vocal disapproval from the audience.

Pro-Corn General Manager Richard Eichstadt, pleaded with the council to rely on good legal council. . . the stakes are really high, could have really significant consequences for all of us. Council member Robert Sauer countered that 75 farmers could also sue the city. He felt the city will probably get sued either way.

Mrs. Mike Gartner stated that Mary Tietjen often represents the League of Minnesota Cities and felt Tietjens opinion was highly qualified. Another citizen complained about the amount of money being spent on attorneys. Mr. Eichstadt stressed that in his opinion the least risk to the city was to approve the building permit,

If the law suits are successful then you wont have to worry, Eichstadt said.

The vote was a tie. Scheevel and Mensink for issuing the permit and McGarvey and Sauer against. Mayor Pechulis didnt vote declaring it a tie. The mayor said that he wanted more time to revue the plans and the application. He said it can be put on the next council meeting agenda. Before the vote the mayor also noted that an out right denial would require the council to declare the specific criteria or reason for the denial.

Police Partnership with


Police Officer Matt Schulz briefly explained the proposed contract with Lanesboro. Preston will be the managers and Lanesboro will be contracting for service from Preston. Benefits for Preston would include 40 hours more of on-duty coverage and more follow up investigations. Schultz said that Lanesboro was anxious to start as soon as possible. Council members wanted to study the contract before approving.

City Administrator

Steve Knoepke representing the Preston Public Utilities Commission expressed his outrage, mostly to Robert Sauer, over Sauers suggestion that Fred Nagle retire. Knoepke claimed that Nagle had received a phone call from the mayor before Sauers appointment asking Nagle when he would retire. Knoepke explained that with Nagles 36 years experience, he knows more about the city and Knoepke sees the possible loss of Nagle as a threat.

Sauer admitted that he did have a friendly discussion with Nagle and was acting on no ones behalf but his own. Sauer said that it seemed that Nagle was under a lot of stress, that Nagle brought up early retirement, and that they also discussed the generic ordinances. Sauer thinks Nagle has been taking advice from people who have their own agendas.

Knoepke assured the council that he would stand behind Nagle. Knoepke praised Nagle for acting in the best interest of the city.

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