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Emotions run high over Heartland power plant at Preston Council meeting


Fri, Oct 25th, 2002
Posted in Features

More than 100 people attended the Preston City Council meeting Monday night, some waving protest signs which read: “Pollution is not the solution” and “Burning Tires is not recycling!”

One of the items for discussion at the council meeting, which was held at F&M Community Bank, was the proposed Heartland Energy and Recycling Plant which would be located in north Preston.

The two and half hour, standing room only, meeting began with Heartland owner Bob Maust and his team of engineers explaining the operations and benefits of the proposed plant. Heartland, which Environmental Engineer Ann Curnow called a “green, environmentally friendly operation” will recycle tires by using a fluid bed combustion process.

The expected 300 tons of tires which will arrive daily will be immediately ground into smaller pieces and stored at the facility. The pieces will then be burned and converted to steam, electricity and other by-products.

Mr. Maust listed the benefits to Preston as increased tax base and more jobs for the community. He expects to have 26 employees at the plant.

Barry Kramer, of the Economic Development Authority, said that from an EDA standpoint, placing Heartland in Preston, will increase the tax base and jobs which will benefit housing and the declining enrollment in schools.

“As far as the environmental issue, I believe that the MPCA (Minnesota Pollution Control Agency) will tell us (of concerns). I heartily recommend support of this project,” Kramer said.

The Great Divide

The majority of the those in attendance were clearly opposed to the future plant and they seemed to have one unified request -- an Environmental Impact Study (EIS).

That study would review all aspects of the impact made by the plant on the city of Preston and the surrounding area, including, the combined effects of emissions from the tire plant and the nearby ethanol plant, as well as the effects on tourism, health and property values.

Mr. Maust and his team of engineers repeatedly claimed that the EIS could take up to five years to complete. “I don’t want to wait five years to find out what I already know,” said Maust. According to Maust, the study could also cost about half a million dollars.

Mr. Maust confirmed that the expected life of the plant is fifty years.

One citizen suggested that “waiting five years is nothing for a fifty year project.”

Council member Jerry Scheevel later said “A five year delay would kill the project.”

Air Emissions

Ann Curnow, an environmental engineer with Sebesta Bloomberg & Associates of the Twin Cities, who has been hired by Maust on this project, described the potential emissions.

“Heartland’s potential to emit particulates is considered a major source of emissions by federal guidelines. There is a potential of 159 tons of particle emissions per year at maximum operation. Cars produce more,” Curnow said.

She reminded the group that these numbers were quoted as the maximum, “actual emissions would be quite less.”

When asked how much could be emitted in one day, Ms. Curnow responded that about .15 pounds would be emitted hourly.

Kathy Attwood of Preston, questioned the content of those emissions, by referring to the MPCA’s statement that the highest pollutant created by the burning tires would be hydrogen chloride (HCL). Ms. Attwood stated “HCL is colorless and corrosive and accumulates in lower areas. HCL also has a pungent odor.”

Ann Curnow explained that the fluidized bed process is the best technology available to control carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and HCL. She also said that the monitoring systems located at the plant would constantly monitor emissions.

Matt Barthel, a new resident to Preston, asked about the computer modeling system used to predict the flow of the emissions.

“Even with the tall stack (210 feet), there is bound to be some effect because Preston is located in a valley where the emissions could be trapped,” Barthel said.

Ann Curnow said that the computer modeling is very conservative and refined. However, she did tell the group that the models were not based specifically at Preston, but were based on the land forms and general weather patterns out of Rochester.

Jon Laging of Preston referred to the EAW which quoted that 826 tons of emissions would spew per year. “That’s 8260 tons in ten years. Think about the future,” he said.

Maust countered, “We haven’t operated yet, we know what is potential--not actual. We can’t give real numbers until (the plant) runs.”

The crowd then gave an audible groan and began to chant, “EIS, EIS”; demanding the study.

Later in the meeting, Dr. Stephanie Jakim, of Olmsted Medical Center, stated that she and other physicians have concerns.

“I echo the sentiments in this room. The EIS would provide more information, maybe not all of the answers, but at least we’d have more information,” Jakim said.

Other Concerns

Many began to voice other concerns related to the proposed plant. Increased truck traffic was one of the first mentioned.

Mr. Maust said that 300 tons of tires would be brought in each day in 20 ton loads, which would average 15 semi-trucks entering and leaving the site daily. The trucks would use Highway 52 and 16 as access to the plant.

Trudy Joerg, of Preston asked about the amount of water needed for the operation. City Administrator Fred Nagle answered that the well on-site would provide the needed water. The usage would not affect other rivers or streams.

Mr. Maust explained that no contaminants would flow into the city’s sewer system. He also claimed that the increased flow into the waste water plant would be within its “adequate capacity”.

Noise, was Pete Daley’s concern. Mr. Maust explained that the noise should be nominal. The grinder used to chop the tires moves at a slow eight rpms, which should not cause a noise factor.

Gerrie Daley, who runs a day care in Preston, expressed concern for the children. “I just want more research,” Daley said.

Preston resident, Dave Pechulis asked, “If the EIS study is not done, what legal recourse do I have?”

Mayor Clarence Quanrud interrupted and shouted, “What legal recourse do I have if you keep talking!”

The Rest of the Council Speaks

The City Council remained quiet during most of the hearing, except for occasional outbursts from Mayor Quanrud.

Joan Clement, of Preston, pleaded with the Council, “Please back us in requesting the proper information. You need to back the community.”

Mayor Quanrud responded, “You ask us to back the community. This city needs some kind of industry. The trail doesn’t bring people who settle here. The EDA is looking for families, kids to go to school. This is a viable operation. Wait 50 years, we’ll be gone and so will the community without some kind of industry.”

Council member Jerry Scheevel added, “Each one of us on the council have children and grandchildren in Preston.”

The council questioned what more they would learn from an EIS Study.

Council member Steve Knoepke did not feel that the group present at the hearing was a “true sample of those I represent”.

The council had two resolutions before them, one in support of Heartland, the other opposed. Council members Knoepke and Mike Gartner said they weren’t prepared to vote, saying that they needed time to weigh the issue.

The comment period for the Environment Assessment Worksheet ended on Wednesday, October 23rd. The engineers recommended that those present with concerns should write specific questions to the MPCA, rather than demanding an EIS.

Update

The Journal has learned that an informal poll is being taken at Preston City Hall to see how many residents are interested in having the Environmental Impact Study performed.

Deputy City Clerk, Sheila Marzolf, said, “Anyone who has an opinion can take part in the poll, opinion forms are available in the lobby of City Hall.”

Marzolf explained that the results of the poll will be sorted by residents/non-residents and will be presented at the next City Council meeting on November 4th. Mayor Quanrud stated that the Council will discuss the Heartland Project at that meeting, but he does not guarantee that a decision will be made.

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