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Preston Council tables decision on Heartland permit


Fri, Jan 10th, 2003
Posted in Features

On Monday night, the Preston City Council tabled any decision on whether to rescind a conditional use permit issued to Heartland Energy & Recycling energy plant until they have had time to discuss the matter with lawyers from the League of Minnesota Cities.

Southeastern Minnesotans for Environmental Protection (SEMEP) have challenged the city’s issuance of a conditional use permit to Heartland, stating that the city had erred in issuing any permits before an environmental review was completed by state regulatory organizations.

According to Minnesota rules and statutes under the state’s Environmental Policy Act, no governmental approvals, including conditional use permits, can be made until the environmental review process is complete.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Citizen’s Board has yet to rule on whether an Environmental Impact Statement is required for Heartland.

Bob Maust, representing Heartland, told the council that one solution to the issue would be to pass a resolution stating that the conditional use permit would be valid at the time that the MPCA approves the Environmental Assessment Worksheet.

When asked to comment, Preston City Attorney David Joerg told the council that the city could potentially face lawsuits over this matter. Joerg, who said that he couldn’t pick sides, stated that he has a conflict of interest in that he has represented the Maust family legally for several years.

“I notified the city council of this conflict in writing several months ago,” Joerg said. “If the city wants legal advice specific to this matter I can refer them to other attorneys.”

Joerg suggested contacting the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) for legal advice, in that the city is insured through the LMC.

Council member Mike Gartner was critical of Joerg for not advising the council about the adminstrative rules.

Gartner: “I find out from reading the Journal that we are not in compliance here. Why weren’t we informed of the legal status of this?”

Joerg: “No one asked.”

Gartner: “You’ve got five dumb people up here, and statutes out there, and we find out the city is in error. You’re an attorney.”

Joerg: “The city may not be in error.”

Gartner: “Well, we have a serious problem here.”

The concensus of the board was to postpone any action until it had time to discuss the matter with LMC.

Janene Roessler, spokesperson for SEMEP, asked the council whether the conditional use permit to Heartland was still valid. “As far as I know, the permit is valid, but nothing can happen until other permits (MPCA) are in place,” Preston City Administrator Fred Nagel responded.

The board voted unanimously to table action on the matter and is expected to revisit the issue at their January 21 meeting.

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