Northern Rice County Watershed Alliance celebrates Earth Day and National Volunteer Week with a spring clean-up of Interstate 35 near Hwy. 19.

The Northern Rice County Watershed Alliance (NRCWA) is holding its “Adopt-a-Highway” cleanup event today, Saturday, April 23, 2005, just north of the Big Steer. Highway clean up will be followed by a picnic.

Here?s a car-load of volunteers who were eager to get moving on this brisk morning.


NRCWA is an association of Rice County residents interested in environmental and land use issues, and is one of 700 organizations that has ?adopted? a section of Minnesota highway. Miles 73-75 of I-35 is NRCWA?s territory — that?s a 2-mile stretch from about the Highway 3 bridge near Webster going north to the County Road 86 bridge). The DOT provides safety training, orange vests, and trash bags. After the clean-up, the DOT maintenance crews pick up the bags on the roadside.

NRCWA gives special thanks for the Church of the Annunciation, on Co. Rd. 46, for gathering space and bathrooms, and to McDonalds, Cub Foods, James Gang Coffee Shop and the Big Steer for sustenance for the road.

If you?re interested in helping out with the next clean-up, contact Ed & Bonnie Olson 507-664-3874.

If your group is interested in adopting a stretch of Minnesota highway, contact the DOT.

A few facts provided by the DOT web site via Ed Olson:

Litter Facts:

* Adopt-a-Highway volunteers pick up litter on more than 12,000 miles of Minnesota roadways.

* Adopt-a-Highway volunteers pick up approximately 26,000 tons of litter every year.

* During a one-time sweep of Interstate 35W in Minneapolis, Adopt-a-Highway volunteers picked up 192 tons of trash in one day. The quantity filled 16 Mn/DOT tandem trucks and represented approximately 6,000 filled trash bags.

* Researchers calculate that 55% of all littering is done intentionally by people who drop or discard products.

* 45% of roadside litter occurs unintentionally when trash blows out of uncovered trucks or falls off of unsecured loads.

* Experts estimate that approximately 80% of all littering is done by males.

* Food and beverage packaging constitutes 51% of roadside litter.

* A conviction for littering is a misdemeanor that is entered on the offender’s driving record. A second offense requires a minimum fine of $400 and a maximum of $700. A judge may require the offender to pick up litter along public roads or impose a jail sentence. (MN statutes 169.42 subd. 5)

* Mn/DOT can bill an individual for retrieving and disposing of illegally dumped items like tires, appliances, furniture and hazardous waste.

Next week… I’m going to obediance school!

Two, nearly three, weeks ago, I was waiting to testify at the Senate Energy Subcommittee, and Sen. Dick Day was promoting SF 2091, an exemption of a planned combined cycle gas plant from utility personal property taxes. The plant is a 325MW plant that may be built over the underground gas storage facility north of Waseca, south of Morristown, on Hwy. 13 near the Waseca County and Rice County border.

Just recently, the Waseca County Commissioners met and they voted to exempt this power plant from personal property tax.

Here?s the item from the County Board?s agenda:

11:15 E.J. Simon, Simon Industries re: Power Plant Project, Blooming Grove Twp.
Mr. Simon would like to construct a 250mw power plant near the Excel Energy gas dome in northern Waseca County. The proposed plant would be fueled by natural gas and would employ up to 20 people. The developers would like the County?s support for legislative relief on the personal property taxes on the turbines needed for the plant.

House Research has written a Utility Personal Property Tax Primer that all local officials should become familiar with before making any exemption decision. Did they know that utility personal property tax represents significant revenue for local governments? Did they know that utility personal property tax has been cut significantly, from 4.6% to 2%? Even worse, did they know that local governments are negotiating to preserve revenue they would have gained from personal property tax ? Scott County and Shakopee just recently made such a deal with Xcel.
Under the agreement, instead of utility personal property taxes, Xcel will make annual payments to Shakopee of $440,900 and Scott County of $477,600 for five years, beginning next year. Why isn?t Waseca County going after those tax dollars? I can?t imagine that they don?t need the revenue! $900,000 a year can do a lot for a community!

And although this gas plant, as proposed, has not been applied for as of this date, there was a proposal for a smaller 46MW plant that was approved by the Environmental Quality Board previously. The Environmental Assessment Worksheet and other info is posted on the EQB site. To get on the list to receive EQB notices about this pending project, contact Bill Storm at (651) 296-9535.

Last night, my conference room was packed with Rice County residents who have participated in land use issues in rural Rice County. It was a diverse group, ranging from “the usual suspects” to farmers, lake residents, and everything in between, and they are all frustrated with the procedural improprieties of the Rice County Board of Commissioners and the Rice County Planning Commission.

The Rice County Commissioners for each of the Districts are:
District 1 – Jake Gillen
District 2 – Jessica Peterson
District 3 – Milt Plaisance
District 4 – Steve Bauer
District 5 – Jim Brown

Here?s what the Faribault Daily News had to say about a citizen’s legitimate Environmental Assessment Worksheet Petition in Rice County:

Facility met environmental guidelines

Sunday, March 13, 2005

There are some who live in Rice County who believe that any type of
development, no matter it’s size, needs to be studied to the point
of exhaustion, to the point that it would curb economic growth in
the county.

For instance, a group of petitioners last week asked the Rice County
Board to force a Northfield area farmer to complete an environmental
assessment worksheet (EAW) on a project where he is going to
construct two hog finishing barns on land he purchased from his
father. Matt Hanson plans to develop the hog raising venture on 15
acres in Wheeling township.

The petitioners asked that the county board demand Hanson to conduct
a discretionary EAW on the project even though according to state
guidelines the project didn’t require one. The members of the group
said that the EAW was necessary because the hog facility will have
an impact on the Cannon River Watershed.

They’re correct, it will have an impact. But the state also has
guidelines in place to determine when a project such as Hanson’s
needs to complete an EAW and his project fell beneath those
guidelines according to county officials. That means the county
board was acting responsibly Tuesday when it ruled that an EAW was
not needed for the project.

County officials do need to think about maintaining and protecting
the land, water and environment in Rice County, but they are also
charged with caring for the economic vitality of the county. And
just as it did with Hanson’s hog facility, those interests will
continually come into conflict with each other as Rice County’s
population grows and more commercial, industrial, agricultural and
residential development takes place.

The state has environmental guidelines in place, as does the county.
And when appropriate county officials should follow the guidelines
to ensure that development in Rice County is planned intelligently
and in the best interests of all, but county officials don’t have to
make it impossible for developers, entrepreneurs or homeowners to do
business in the county.

When additional environmental study is warranted for a project the
county board shouldn’t hesitate to demand it happen, but then again,
when a project meets the state and county environmental guidelines
the board has an obligation to let the project happen. That’s what
they did in the case of Hanson’s hog facility.

Here’s more information on that particular Petition. The Cannon River Watershed Partnership had concerns about the environmental review and entered comments on the record.

The Northfield League of Women Voters have an observer at most local governmental meetings, and the observer’s comments are posted. County Board meeting attendees have observed regular violation of the state’s rules regarding EAW Petitions, and as noted in the LWV observation of the April 5 meeting, above, important items are regularly not on the agenda and there is no way for citizens to know if an item of interest will be discussed or acted on. Recently, a citizen was lambasted at a Planning Commission meeting and in the Northfield News by the Planning Commission Chair for asking questions! GASP! A CITIZEN ASKING QUESTIONS???? Can’t have that, now, can we!


Wednesday, March 30, 2005

To the editor:

Why is the Daily News editorially taking up the abusive tactics of
the county, shaming residents for use of the only tools available to
protect their community and to make the county comply with the law?
Have the Daily News, Rice County Board and Rice County Planning
Commission looked at the county’s definition of “animal unit,” the
thresholds for a mandatory and discretionary Environmental
Assessment Worksheet, and the meaning of “cumulative impact?” The
rule governing EAW petitions is clear: “No final governmental
approvals may be given to the project named in the petition, nor may
any construction be started, until the need for an EAW has been
determined.” In making its EAW determination, the board cannot
disregard the petition; instead it must make specific findings
supporting its decision regarding the petition.

I’m astounded that the county so branzenly acts with disregard for
legitimate EAW petitions, taking actions before the EAW petition
determination has been made. The county has a disturbing pattern of
disregard of environmental law and citizen participation. The Daily
News, by its editorials, heaps disdain upon disregard.

Both the Daily News and the county use their positions of power to
shame those citizens working to protect the public interest, which
can only have a chilling effect or lead to revolt. The Faribault
Daily News must review the letter issued by EQB staff which explains
and supports the citizens’ right to petition. But evidence suggests
that the Daily News and the county have little regard for facts or
the law and the rights of citizens to preserve their community. Last
time I checked, it was the job of a newspaper not to quash, but to
inform the public. And it’s the job of citizens to petition and keep
the “government of the people” honest. If they’re not honest, it’s
time to throw them out with gusto!

Carol A. Overland
Attorney for a number of EAW Petitioners in Rice County

So what were we planning last night? Stay tuned…

Waste storage meeting draws light attendance. (Monticello)

It?s scary ? a utility can apply to state agencies to store high level nuclear waste in Monticello, in Wright County, in a community on a site on a river and as the article above notes, at the Environmental Quality Board public meeting, only four people were not from either the applicant or a state agency!

This morning I met with Joan Marshman, one of Florence Township’s Supervisors, she’s been on the town board over ten years now, and she and John Wurst, now Chair, were on the Board when the township went through it’s own struggle with NSP’s nuclear waste starting in 1995. I represented the Township on nuclear waste issues. It looks as though the utility hasn’t learned much, because they’re proposing upgrading a 69kV line to 345kV — one that goes right over “Site P,” and John Wurst’s farm — the site chosen for nuclear waste! It also goes right through Mississippi Jewel, an “exclusive” golf course community in Lake City (p. 2 and 27, map of transmission line).

Anyway, Joan and I are both concerned about a nuclear waste ISFSI going in upstream from our river communities. Xcel?s Certificate of Need Application was filed with the PUC, Docket E002/CN-05-123 and there were only four Initial Comments and two Reply Comments filed! Here’s what PUC Staff had to say about completeness of Xcel?s Certificate of Need application to the PUC.

April 7, 2005, the PUC made the determination that the application was substantially complete and referred it to the Office of Administrative Hearings for a hearing (Docket No. 2500 16407). That hearing begins May 9th, before Steve Mihalchick, Administrative Law Judge. For more info on how to participate, check the Contested Case Guide, and contact the Docket Coordinator (612) 341-7448.

Comments on the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement are due April 13, 2005 – THIS WEDNESDAY!

Xcel’s EQB Monticello Nuclear Waste Dry Cask Storage Application is on the EQB website.
John Wachtler is the EQB’s project manager handling this application. 651-296-2096.
Quick, read the Draft EIS scope and email John your comments.


April 10th, 2005

Transmission Omnibus Bills S.F. 1368 and H.F. 1344 have to be stopped.

Call today:

Sen. Ellen Anderson (651) 296-5537
Rep. Aaron Peterson (651) 296-4228

Call these groups and ask them about the deal they made, ask them to change their position, ask them to OPPOSE these bills:

* George Crocker, NAWO (651) 770-3861
* Bill Grant, Izaak Walton (651) 649-1446

The Attorney General has been working against this awful bill, and without that support, we?d be in utility heaven and citizen/ratepayer/taxpayer hell. Call Mike Hatch?s office and let him know you appreciate his work opposing an ATC style transmission company in Minnesota:

Mike Hatch, Attorney General
(651) 296-3353

Call the Governor and tell him his bill is awful policy.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty

Problems with this bill
Many changes are proposed in MN regarding transmission. Most are utility giveaways, similar to the deal struck with TRANSLink, the Minnesota version with ATC. In 2003, the Izaak Walton League, ME3, North American Water Office and Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy agreed to let TRANSLink move forward without direct or indirect opposition, and to advocate for TRANSLink in other venues, which is what they?re doing here.

Don’t allow TRANSLink
Why is a TRANSLink/ATC transmission company a bad idea? Take a look at the PUC?s staff briefing papers about TRANSLink.

Don’t allow exemption from regulation

Other horrible ideas in this bill include exemptions from state review, which was the beginning of the problem with Arrowhead. No Minnesota state agency seriously looked at Arrowhead-Weston.

Don’t allow automatic rate adjustments
Another bad idea is that of giving utilities automatic cost recovery for transmission ?for renewables.? This is a bad idea because we learned in the SW MN 345kV proceeding that the state does not know how to tell if that?s what it is, and Xcel abuses this option. Xcel asked for automatic recovery on a long list of upgrades and construction projects it claimed were ?for wind? including the Ft. Calhoun Interface, and the Wilmarth line that?s been sagging for decades. When W.O.L.F.?s attorney challenged that claim at the PUC, Xcel withdrew that request.

Don’t allow “Regional Reliability” to define need
?Regional reliability? as a ?need? for transmission is a problem too ? we saw that claim made in Arrowhead, and we know we?re not freezing in the dark in an incubator without a job.

Good News about Landowner Compensation

The only good news is that we?re now talking about changes to the typical easement/condemnation scheme under which utilities acquire land for transmission. Proposed changes include annual royalty payments, and should include a provision of the ?Buy the Farm? option for all HVTL lines. S.F. 462 is the best option so far, and was recently introduced in the Senate Energy Committee. Call Senator Vickerman and tell him you appreciate his hard work for landowners, that “Buy the Farm” should apply to all High Voltage Transmission Lines, and that the landowner compensation should be separate from this horrible Transmission Omnibus Bill:
Sen. Jim Vickerman (651) 296-5650

It’s easy to get copies of proposed bills
Go to Both Senate and House have an easy look up on the upper left hand side of the screen. Check out:
S.F. 1368 and H.F. 1344
Also compare the landowner compensation ideas offered in S.F. 462 and H.F. 1645 (Vickerman?s 462 is best).
Call your own legislators and let them know what you think too. For those of you along the Arrowhead route in Minnesota:

Rep. Mary Murphy (651) 296-2676

Sen. Tom Bakk (651) 296-8881
Senator Bakk is on the Senate Energy Committee!