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Cottage Grove Citizens' coalition chides city, 3M

A group of citizens angry with the city of Cottage Grove's perceived lack of progress in halting a 3M proposal to burn hazardous waste from sources outside the company in Cottage Grove vented at city council members last week, telling them "it's time for leadership" in the standoff with the industrial giant.

Dozens of members of the Coalition of Concerned Cottage Grove Citizens flooded the open forum portion of last Wednesday's Cottage Grove City Council meeting -- most holding green "Neighbors Against the Burner" signs and some wearing gas masks around their necks -- and called on council members to steel their resistance to 3M's intentions to expand where the company can obtain wastes it burns at its Cottage Grove hazardous waste incinerator.

"We encourage you to do what you can do," said Fred Luden, the former 3M Cottage Grove site director and former Cottage Grove City Council member who has led opposition to the plan. "We understand there's limitations, but be bold. (It is) time for leadership."

Talks between 3M and the city regarding air monitoring near the 3M Cottage Grove site were revived in recent weeks after falling apart last month over disagreements about what chemicals would be tested and for how long.

The two sides began talking again after a city council workshop in late June when council members agreed that Cottage Grove would help foot the bill for air monitoring that officials had previously said 3M should pay for.

Negotiations cut off

Mayor Myron Bailey had cut off negotiations with 3M over the impasse last month. But he said the determination by city leaders that Cottage Grove would likely lose a legal battle waged to stop the 3M incinerator plan from going forward led officials to seek another alternative.

"What we do realize is we can't win in court," Bailey said. "It would be very expensive, really long and drawn-out."

Typically, 15 minutes are reserved for citizen comments before Cottage Grove City Council meetings. Last week, coalition members spoke for nearly 40 minutes, chiding 3M for the ongoing water contamination issue, the lower number of jobs at the Cottage Grove plant than in decades past and the amount the company pays in taxes to the city.

Bailey said in an interview it was unfortunate that the coalition's message "got off-track," and said he feared misinformation was spreading about what the city's intentions are in dealing with 3M's plan.

Minnesota Pollution Control officials have said the agency is likely to approve 3M's proposed permit amendments, and Bailey said he anticipated the MPCA Citizens' Board would almost certainly vote in favor of 3M.

"We really don't want outside waste streams coming in," Bailey said.

But the best the city can do, he said, is try to make sure the area's air is properly monitored to ensure the increase in emissions from the incinerator that would occur if more hazardous waste is burned doesn't take levels of heavy metals and volatile organic compounds above permitted levels.

"We don't support" the permit change, Bailey said. "But we know what we can and cannot do."