In-person words spoken no longer count on the record, but several dozen concerned neighbors and activists came out to question and comment to Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) officials about the Northern Metals shredder permit and Environmental Impact Statement issue Aug. 10. About 20 spoke.
Residents were urged to write and send in their comments, due by 4:30 p.m. Sept. 10, 2012 (see submission info in sidebar).
“What happened to having a court reporter at public hearings recording comments?” asked Lea Foushee of the North American Water Office.
David Thornton, an assistant MPCA commissioner said, “That never did work.”
By the end of the evening, all four on the MPCA panel complimented the group for being knowledgeable about the issue, and elected officials kept their entreaties brief. Neighbors phrased most comments as questions; the amount of pure comment was minimal—perhaps reserved for that ever-so-important written word.
MPCA is set to determine whether proposed changes to Northern Metals’ air quality permit require an environmental impact statement (EIS)—a highly-detailed study that would likely take more than a year—or can proceed with the less-detailed environmental assessment worksheet that has already been done. The case has been in court since February, with back-and-forth rulings that, at various times, required MPCA to complete its work and forbade MPCA from doing its work.
The most recent court ruling says: Do the work.
Leslie Davis of Earth Protectors said Northern Metals needs to get a new location, and Legacy Amendment money should be used to do it. He also said it sets dangerous precedent to have a hurry-up meeting because of a court case. “It just invites others to sue you.”
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The public hearing had been scheduled, cancelled, re-scheduled at least twice, and finally conducted with about two weeks notice. One speaker pointed out that most of her neighbors don’t have computers so can’t be notified online. Susan Breedlove said there is a publication that reaches all of North Minneapolis (NorthNews) but is monthly, so plans need to be made far ahead to use that vehicle. The meeting was advertised in the Aug. 1 Northeaster.
“Hold the meeting at Psycho Suzi’s” said one attendee.
Jeff Smith, MPCA’s industrial division director, said, “We will find new ways to talk to the public” about this.
Jeff Skrenes, housing director for Hawthorne neighborhood, asked if the petition running online at www.change.org/petitions/stop-northern-metals could be considered written comment or if every one of the signers would need to write their own letter. Jess Richards, who manages Environmental Review at the MPCA said the petition with copies of signatures could be included, and that everyone who wants to write letters should do so.
Much of the two-hour-plus exchange centered on measuring fine particulates in context of existing pollution. At the end of the meeting MPCA officials shared the list they had started, of significant monitored sources: Cemstone, Aggregate Industries, GAF Packaging, Hard Chrome, Marshall Block. Mary McGuire added Consolidated Container, another mentioned G & K.
Northern Metals’ first request to modify their permitted emissions asked for clearance up to 4.2 lbs. per hour of metals, mercury, and “PM 2.5” (a measure of fine particles, some of which are caught in fabric filters, some of which are condensable from stack emissions). The existing permit only accounts for the filterable particulates. MPCA is considering imposing a different limit, 1.83 lbs per hour, which would include condensable particulate. According to their presentation, the panel officials said they believe this will comply with federal standards without changing the actual emissions.
Northsiders and Northeast residents cited I-94 pollution. MPCA officials said they are looking for a place to put a fine-particulate monitoring device closer to the Northern Metals site. They have one in south Minneapolis and apparently until recently, were satisfied that it was giving them a good baseline of existing pollution in the city. A lot of the back-and-forth was audience frustration that the officials said they didn’t believe their own modeling (which showed widespread areas where there could be violations of these standards) was accurate.
“How can you ask for comment when you don’t have all the information you want us to comment on?” asked State Representative Joe Mullery at the end of the meeting.
A nurse named Laura, talking about the high number of asthma cases and elevated blood lead levels in North Minneapolis, said “it seems like we have a lot of data now that have a high level related to pollution. I think we should be looking at data we already have, that this is an overburdened community.”
Justin Eibenholzl of Southeast Como Improvement Association prepared pollutant calculations based on data “from the AERA analysis, Quantitative Summary (Northern Metals), page 3 of 15 (AERA) p. 53 of 66 of the Environmental Assessment Worksheet documents based on a link at www.pca. state.mn.us. “How many people are possibly going to get sick from this?” he asked, listing the dramatic increases that would be allowed under the proposed permit change.
Frank Kolasch, MPCA’s manager of Environmental Data Management, said they have been analyzing risks compared to guidelines at the Department of Health and “what would this project contribute?” would not be significant.
Louis Alemayehu of Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota later argued with Kolasch, saying, “I didn’t hear the science,” and “can I afford to believe this soil is okay?” Several people are nervous that the McKinley CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) gardens are in the path of emissions. Kolasch said they have not looked at the current condition of the soils for a baseline. Alemayehu said “if an EIS was going to be done we wouldn’t be having this discussion. We’re not feeling protected.”
Bev Scherer from Hawthorne neighborhood, quoting the change.org petition, called for hourly emission measurements, posted on line and daily site cleanup required instead of at-will.
Smith said “the company has been paving to counteract fugitive dust problems,” and urged residents to “give us a call” if they have complaints.
It was asked if the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) would get involved, because of stormwater runoff and effects on the river. Richards asked that it be put in writing that the MPCA should follow up with the DNR.
Bruce Chamberlain, planning director for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, read a statement that any increase in emissions has potential to negatively affect parks. “A new permit well crafted would give greater protection.”
After Sept. 10 but before a yet to be scheduled MPCA Citizens Board meeting, another public comment meeting will be held, MPCA officials said. It would follow after staff review comments and other information, and decide whether to recommend a full Environmental Impact Statement. Stay tuned to MyNortheaster.com in case they don’t make arrangements in time to publicize in the newspapers.