Whenever a business is proposed in a rural area that draws concerns from local residents, the standard “Not In My Back Yard” (NIMBY) protocol kicks in.
Over the years in Wright County, in order to delay a project by requesting an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) or the much more complicated and expensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) one of the common reasons given is that there are endangered species like the Blanding’s turtle that have nesting areas in the vicinity.
Suffice to say, an asphalt hot mix operation falls squarely under the NIMBY concerns. At the June 4 meeting of the Wright County Board of Commissioners, Planning & Zoning Administrator Sean Riley came before the board to review a petition brought by Silver Creek Township residents near the proposed asphalt plant being sought by Valley Paving Inc.
What resulted was a rare vote where the “ayes” had more votes than the “nays,” but didn’t have enough to pass.
As the discussion began, a representative from Valley Paving motioned at the commissioners that he wanted to speak, but Riley informed the board that he had told the petitioners and township representatives that the agenda item wasn’t intended to be a public hearing so attendance by those parties may have been impacted.
As the discussion went on, Commissioner Charlie Borrell said that, given the amount of scrutiny and governmental controls on such hot mix operations, that the opposition to the request is more an attempt to delay or block it than legitimate environmental concerns.
“I do not see the need for this,” Borrell said. “It’s just somebody trying to throw a monkey wrench into the project. It is going to add extra expense. I’m going to make a motion that an EAW not be required at this time.”
Borrell’s motion got a second from Commissioner Mike Potter, who pointed out the extreme lengths the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency goes through with such bituminous mixing operations that keep operators in line and within the law.
Board Chairman Darek Vetsch saw it completely different. He noted that the location, while in a township, is close to a cluster of houses and that the residents there have legitimate concerns about the potential environmental impacts of the plant.
“I am going to strongly urge my other fellow commissioners to vote against this motion,” Vetsch said. “If we don’t do an EAW on this, we are basically saying we won’t do EAW’s on anything. You guys are setting yourself up for a dangerous precedent. These people have been there way longer than this proposed asphalt plant. They’ve spent a great deal of time getting names and getting information. They’re not trying to stop to project, they just want to know that they’re being found safe in the process.”
Borrell said that the facts don’t justify such restrictions because the excessive regulation of such facilities has all but eliminated the need for the types of concerns that would require an EAW.
“In you read about asphalt plants, you will find that there are no harmful effects,” Borrell said. “They are scrutinized by the state like nobody’s business as far as any kind of runoff or any kind of pollution that they’re doing. They’re monitored on a continual basis and they’re safe – that’s all there is to it. This is only something to try to stop the project.”
After Vetsch and Borrell volleyed back and forth about the validity of the EAW request, Borrell’s motion got called by Potter for a vote. In a board rarity, the motion failed by a 2-1 vote. Borrell and Potter voted in favor of not requiring the EAW, Vetsch voted against it and commissioners Mark Daleiden and Christine Husom abstained – Daleiden citing that he needs more information and Husom saying she has heard concerns from local residents. The matter will be brought back to the June 11 board meeting for a final decision.
At that time, the board agreed to give each side of the issue 10 minutes to state their cases.
John Holler covers government and the Wright County Board of Commissioners.