col Tire plant date needed

Lawsuit seeks more detailed environmental study

A proposal to build a huge tire-burning plant in Preston has the potential to change the character of that community from a pleasant Fillmore County seat to a center of heavy industry, with all of the unfavorable environmental effects that implies.

The plant -- proposed by Heartland Energy and Recycling L.L.C. -- would produce electricity by burning about 10 million tires a year and would sell the ash and metal residue.

In spite of the magnitude of the project, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has ruled that a major environmental impact study is not required. The MPCA Citizens Board, almost always reluctant to oppose any project proposed by businesses, has ruled that only a less detailed environmental work sheet is needed.

A citizens group -- Southeastern Minnesotans for Environmental Protection -- has filed a lawsuit opposing the MPCA action, asking the court to order a more searching Environmental Impact Statement and to declare that the project "poses the potential for significant environmental effects." Individual citizens also have asked the MPCA Citizens Board to refuse to issue an air quality permit, which is needed before the plant can be built.


In the lawsuit, the citizens' group alleges that the plant would cause air, soil and water pollution and would bring a heavy volume of traffic and noise to the area. In addition, the group said the plant would increase air-quality problems caused by the nearby ethanol plant.

In its response, Heartland defended the citizens board decision, saying, "MPCA's decision ... complied with applicable law and procedure, was supported by substantial evidence in the administrative record, and was reasonable, not arbitrary and capricious."



; The project has been proposed by Bob Maust of Preston. It would cost $50 million and produce up to 20 megawatts of electricity. Maust has said the tires would come from as far away as Winnipeg and Chicago and it would take as many as 25 trucks a day, each with 20 tons of cargo, to deliver them. The plant would produce enough electricity to supply 6,000 to 10,000 homes.

Of 52 public comments given to the MPCA, 39 opposed the plant's construction and 13 supported it.

In replying to citizens' comments, the PCA said its staff has little information on the type of boiler and fuel that will be used. It relied on test data from a "9-square foot" pilot plant and two small plants that used a different way to burn tires but had similar pollution control equipment. Based on those comments, it does not appear that the MPCA staff had sufficient data to make a final decision on the plant.

A number of questions should be asked about a project of this size:


1. If burning 10 million tires to produce electric power is such a good idea, why are there not other examples of successful plants of this kind and this size that could be studied to determine the project's feasibility?

2. Since the project will require trucking thousands of tons of tires, why build it away from population centers where more tires are readily available, thus increasing costs unnecessarily?

3. Why choose a site without convenient superhighway access and with a road system that is not geared for heavy industrial use?


; Members of the MPCA Citizens Board live a long way from Preston. A Fillmore County judge is in a better position to review the law and the facts in the case and to decide whether the more definitive Environmental Impact Statement is justified.

It is an important decision. The future welfare of an entire community is at stake. That is sufficient justification to give the project the most rigorous inspection possible.

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