11/15/2012 9:13:00 AM Air emissions review creating concerns over plant
by DENISE MARTIN
In an approximately three-hour meeting at Harris City Hall Monday night dozens of citizens, city, state and corporate officials attempted to unravel the issues connected to an air emissions permit application for Tiller Corporation. Tiller owns a sand drying, screening and loading facility just south of Harris, located in the city limits of North Branch. North Branch granted Tiller a conditional use and a variance to operate the plant in September 2011. The MN Pollution Control Agency has a public comment period open on Tiller’s air emissions/air quality permit (Nov. 8 until December 14), which was missed somehow in the process of opening the facility. The state plans to hold a public hearing specifically on the facility permit December 4, in North Branch. Tiller Corporation started stocking aggregate inventory under the belief, according to Tiller executive Mike Caron, that permits had all been appropriately applied for. Caron explained that the PCA advised the company on what was required and Tiller Corp. submitted applications in February 2012. Caron explained that, “...at that time we understood that we were permitted to begin construction.”
Caron said the air quality permit the facility sought was believed to be the only needed. “This was our error,” he stated. Caron continued, saying PCA let Tiller know the permit application had “no deficiencies” April 11, 2012. But when PCA inspected in North Branch in late May, “...the PCA changed the permit type being requested,” said Caron. Now the state is reviewing information on emissions expected related to new details submitted by Tiller on plant operations, and Caron said the company believes “two minor changes” in operations will make the facility compliant with Best Available Control Technology. The city of Harris had no role in all this, except for being located right on the aggregate haul route. The extent of the numbers of tons of needed product and hauling away of washed/refined product was detailed in the latest permit, and Harris citizens and council were astonished when the permit details came out. People spoke for hours Monday in city hall about the huge jump in numbers of rail cars expected on the small St. Croix Valley RR line. Residents said there are inferior rail crossings and the system lacks structure or personnel to support such heavy use. Major arteries in and out of residential areas could be blocked while rail cars are loaded. There are also concerns about hundreds of trucks that will cut through Harris on their way to and from the facility.
People were upset that Tiller installed turn and by-pass lanes, improving safety on the county highway in North Branch, but nobody bothered to see if Harris had concerns. Caron said in this first phase of operations, (first three years or so) supplying silica product for industry and energy development-- means the North Branch site will run 12 hours per day with the potential to run 20 hours a day. The air permit states 1,800 trucks per week. Caron said a realistic operating number is 12 trucks into and 12 trucks out of the site every hour. He added that in a matter of a year or two the supply line coming from the east (Grantsburg, Wisconsin and a Sunrise Township pit)will no longer be a source of materials. Product will come from pits to the south of North Branch. People in the audience responded; that would be good, let North Branch residents deal with the hauling through their town then. A railroad representative Lee Ladig, said there’s a potential for anywhere from a few to 45 cars maximum being loaded. It depends on product shipment orders.
The speed limit max is 12 mph. He promised the railroad will take a look at crossings at 425th, 442nd and 470th, which were mentioned at Monday’s meeting. He also said the rail company is prepared to add maintenance and track safety personnel. He offered to coordinate emergency procedures and contact information with Harris First Responders who also attended Monday’s meeting. Harris City Council hosted the special meeting to preliminarily bring all the parties together. The permit public hearing is Dec. 4 in North Branch and official comment opportunity on the permit is through the PCA. Council did revisit the issue of if the Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) should be pursued-- or if Tiller could just do a traffic study that could justify asking the county to do roadwork to address concerns. (Caron stated Monday night the county engineer told Tiller company officials there are no problems with the truck traffic using county routes in and around Harris. We weren’t able to confirm that by press time.) Harris Mayor Diane Miller commented that there were so many petitioners signing the request for the EAW that she couldn’t “look them in the face” and reject the EAW petition. Earlier council had dedicated $1,000 to pursue the EAW with state regulators. MN PCA spokesperson Don Smith said if there’s sufficient evidence presented supporting the need for an EAW for the air quality permit, and an EAW is ordered, there could be a five to six month delay in the permit action.
The worksheet petition is reviewed by another state agency, he added. Other council members, though, felt having Tiller do the traffic assessment only (in lieu of all the items on an EAW) could expedite permitting and avoid loss of jobs and other negative outcomes, as Tiller is shutdown until the PCA okays the air emissions standards and practices. The EAW petition submittal is going to be on the next Harris City Council agenda. There was no ability for the council to vote Monday because it was noticed as a special work session only. The aggregate being imported to the North Branch facility does qualify for the county-collected “gravel tax” of 15 cents per ton.
Caron noted that there will be revenues from this plant. North Branch Mayor-elect Ron Lindquist told the Harris residents that, “North Branch is in a tremendous bind.” He said the city has no control on how product arrives or leaves the plant “on public roads.” “The city needs industry,” he stressed,”we had to market this land... the county needs this.” An audience member asked state Senator Sean Nienow if there might be state help to build a freeway frontage road between about 400th in North Branch, to the Harris interchange, as a direct route for this plant product to access I-35. Others wondered about a new freeway bridge access at 400th, near the plant.
Sen. Nienow said the “short answer” for the state aid funding is “probably not likely.” He said freeway bridge spacing standards and other factors preclude that project for sure from the state priority list. Harris Mayor Miller summed up the tiring and lengthy meeting, saying Harris markets itself on “no traffic” and its rural quietude. People are anxious about impacts from this North Branch plant because it embodies just about everything Harris is not, Miller added, Harris has bills to pay and if nobody moves to Harris, and indeed if people leave, the city suffers.