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County will fight river dumping plan

By Staff | Feb 21, 2011

The Buffalo Lake Energy ethanol plant wants to pipe waste water 20 miles to the Blue Earth River in Faribault County.

Now, they are getting serious.

At its meeting last Tuesday, the Faribault County Board of Commissioners took some big steps toward fighting a plan of an ethanol plant to dump wastewater in the Blue Earth River.

Those steps included hiring an outside law firm, sending a letter of protest to the governor, and studying the firm’s application to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).

At issue is the proposal by Buffalo Lake Energy ethanol plant – located near Fairmont in Martin County – to install a pipeline 20 miles from the plant to the Blue Earth River north of the city of Blue Earth.

The commissioners never took a formal vote to oppose the project, but did pass two other motions.

Tom Loveall

The first was to hire the law firm of Ratwik, Rozak and Maloney, on a retainer fee of $3,600.

The firm is familiar to the commissioners, as two of its members advise the Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC) on issues dealing with planning and zoning.

“This is no reflection on you,” Commissioner Tom Loveall said to County Attorney Troy Timmerman. “I just think we need some advice from an expert on what our options are.”

Timmerman agreed, saying he felt it was not a reflection on his abilities, and the county needed an expert in this case.

“I am usually fiscally conservative,” Timmerman told the board. “But, this might be a case of being penny wise and pound foolish.”

Commissioner John Roper questioned the cost of hiring the firm, however, and wondered if there were lower cost firms available, or whether it might be possible to use AMC’s experts for free.

Roper was the lone dissenting vote to hire the law firm.

The commissioners asked County Auditor/Treasurer John Thompson to set up a time for the board to meet with the representatives of the law firm as soon as possible.

He set a tentative date of Friday, Feb. 25, at 1 p.m. It would depend on the schedule of the law firm, he says.

In a second move, Loveall presented a letter he had composed, asking the board’s permission to send it to the governor.

The letter outlined the county’s concern with the ethanol plant’s proposal to dump wastewater into Faribault County.

The commissioners not only voted to send the letter, they all agreed to sign it, and have it sent to the governor, local legislators, the MPCA, and boards and commissions which deal with water and rivers.

“We need to work on this issue now, and not wait,” Loveall says. “If we wait for an invitation to the party, we will be left standing out on the sidewalk.”

The commissioners discussed other options with Michele Stindtman of the county’s Planning and Zoning office.

She had a copy of the 396-page application for a permit which the ethanol plant has filed with the MPCA.

“I believe there will be two opportunities for public comment as part of the application process,” Stindtman says.

She also said the application appears to have two plans for the route of the pipeline, but in both cases it will follow railroad lines and empty into the river between Blue Earth and Winnebago.

Commissioner Greg Young wondered if the board could pass an ordinance forbidding dumping waste water in the river.

“That is something we can ask the lawyers,” Board chairman Tom Warmka responded.

In other action, the commissioners:

• Heard a report from Veterans Service Officer Dave Hanson. He reported the office has received several grants recently, including $6,000 for outreach to local veterans, $5,279 for flood relief to veterans and $12,696 in state soldier assistance funds.

Hanson also gave an update on the need to raise funds for Bronze Star flag holders, placed at the graves of veterans.

“We still need to raise just over $800,” Hanson says. “Each one costs $26.”

Commissioners assured Hanson they would help spread the word and were confident the money could be raised.

• Heard a report from the county extension office personnel, including an introduction to the new nutritionist, Sara Smith.

Also in the report was an announcement of a plan to have a community garden area for Blue Earth residents.

The garden area will be at the county fairgrounds, says Commissioner Roper.

The Blue Earth Area Mentors (BEAM) group will also be involved.