There’s a plan afoot here in Red Wing that strikes me as one of the more bizarre ideas, particularly given the subsidy the City of Red Wing is giving to Xcel Energy by leasing land from Xcel Energy for the term of Xcel’s own “ash mining” project and about 10 years beyond.  WHAT?

On Monday, the Pollution Control Agency will release the EAW and you’ll be able to find it HERE AT THIS LINK.

This PR blurb was issued recently by the Red Wing Chamber of Commerce, in support of the project:

Community Meeting to Share Information About Proposed Project to Process Ash and Recycle Metals from Xcel Energy’s Red Wing RDF Landfill – December 7 | 5PM-7PM | Red Wing Public Library.

Please join Lab USA and the City of Red Wing for a community meeting to learn more about a potential project that would process ash and recycle metals from Xcel Energy’s RDF landfill in Red Wing. Lab USA has proposed to build, own, and operate an environmentally-responsible ash processing facility that would be located next to the existing Xcel RDF landfill in Red Wing. The project will recover and recycle high quantities of iron and non-iron metals from ash in the landfill that was created by Xcel Energy’s Red Wing Generating Plant and from existing ash at Xcel Energy’s RDF landfill.The community meeting is another step in Lab USA’s ongoing work to secure permits and approvals and to reach out to the Red Wing community.

 *   Lab USA has completed a voluntary Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) that shows the project will comply with rules and regulations related to noise, emissions, and other impacts.
 *   People from Lab USA, Xcel Energy, and the City of Red Wing will be at the meeting to answer questions and talk about the project, how the ash processing works, and how this project can benefit Red Wing.
This project is also a unique way for Red Wing to take its commitment to sustainable environmental stewardship to a new level by creating both economic and environmental benefits for City of Red. It will remove and recycle metals from the landfill, generate new revenue for the city, and create jobs as the project moves forward.

The meeting will also include a chance to learn more about EAW for the project and to share comments and feedback with Lab USA and the City of Red Wing. The public comment period for the EAW begins December 5th. The Red Wing City Council is expected to vote to approve the project in February of 2017. For more information please contact labusaredwing@gmail.com 

To be clear, the Monday meeting is hosted by Lab USA and is an “open house” format and is not a formal hearing.  The public comment period is for 30 days, until January 4, and I’l publish details on where to send the comments after the Notice is issued.  After January 4, 2017, there will be a determination of whether an Environmental Impact Statement is necessary, and remember, in recent history, the MPCA Board has only ordered ONE EIS, and after that one EIS, the MPCA Citizens Board was unceremoniously disbanded!  The odds of a declaration that an EIS is needed are zilch, zip, nada, ZERO.

The EAW will be released on Monday, FIND IT HERE, per Dan Card at the MPCA:

Kevin Kain is the environmental review project manager for the proposed Lab USA project. 

The reason you couldn’t find the EAW on our website is because it hasn’t been placed on public notice yet. That will occur next Monday Dec 5, 2016 which starts the 30 day public comment period.  You will find EAW posted next Monday at the bottom of https://www.pca.state.mn.us/quick-links/environmental-assessment-worksheets-and-environmental-impact-statements under Environmental Assessment Worksheets.

The company will be hosting an Open House and Kevin along with other solid waste permitting staff plan on attending.

What’s the deal?

Here are the documents I have, in chronological order for the most part, some are duplicates produced for the procedural step that followed:

So what is this, the short version??  It’s a plan to “mine” the incinerator ash in the City of Red Wing landfill.  There’s a link to formally closing the dump, and I think that by doing this, the city takes a step toward that formal closure, one pushed by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.  But mining the ash?  The plan is for the City of Red Wing to hire a company, Lab USA, to “mine” the ash and remove salable materials from it.

Now here’s where it gets really weird.  The City of Red Wing’s planned part of this project lasts one year.  Xcel Energy, which has its own incinerator dump here, plans to do the same, and its part of the project lasts 11 years.  And the City of Red Wing signed a lease with Xcel Energy to do this project for 20 years.  TWENTY YEARS?  WHAT?!?!  Here are the details…

The City staff has stressed the underlying Red Wing goal of landfill closure through the state’s “Closed Landfill Program.”  When presented at the 11/9/2015 workshop (See 8c2-attachment -_11-09-15_Workshop_Minutes), there was “potential” for a sublease, and now that’s presumed.  Red Wing’s Public Works has pressure from the MPCA to close its landfill, and also from Xcel because Red Wing “does not have enough ash to support this project as a stand alone project.”  In other words, it’s dependent on Xcel to do this “project.”  RW Public Works’s Moskwa admits that “the Xcel Energy landfill ash is the primary reason for the Lab USA’s interest in submitting a proposal.” (See p. 5, March 22. 2016, Sustainability Commission MeetingMinutes).

The City of Red Wing project would last just 1 year, and Xcel Energy’s share would last 10-11 years.  (Lease, p. 17 of pdf: May 9, 2016_9b – attachment Yet the City of Red Wing is leasing Lots 1 and 2 from Xcel Energy for 20 years!  Given that disparity, the reasons for the lease/sublease arrangement with the City of Red Wing, Xcel, and Lab USA, rather than Lab USA taking on the lease, are not clear.  Because there are three parties in this, that provides some measure of inherent instability in the project, and because Lab USA has no history in Minnesota, they’ll receive higher scrutiny, one would hope.  On the other hand, the City of Red Wing seems to have yet another deal with Xcel Energy, where they’ve taken on a lease of land from Xcel for the City yard (for what purpose?) and that also includes lease of the land for this project and then the City plans to sublease to Lab USA (for the one year, for 11 years, for 20 years?), but yet the lion’s share of term of the project is the 10-11 years for Xcel, not the 1 year for Red Wing.  So why is the City of Red Wing buying into this, subsidizing this, so heavily?  To induce Xcel to do it?  Some other reason?

With the lease for both lots already signed, the project is moving forward, and that’s a problem.  How is this a good deal for the City of Red Wing?  Is anyone paying attention?

Further, calling this project an allowed use, as “Public Works Maintenance Shops and Yards,” is a stretch.  I’m not seeing any change from Agricultural Residential (AR) designation in the Comp Plan, and see statements that “Outlot A” was removed from the Tyler Hills PUD, Applications for Lot 1 and Lot 2 both denote Zoning as “AR.”  I don’t see a change from AR to anything else. The Application includes “Proposed Tyler Hills Fourth Addition” and the lease boundary doesn’t match up with Outlot A, and Figures 1 and 2 don’t match up with the proposed plat.  Details, anyone?

Other issues with the project itself?

  • There’s traffic… “24 trucks/day” means 48 truck trips per day, or 24 trucks assigned to the area to make many trips back and forth and back and forth from the landfill to the building — this needs to be clarified, and impacts addressed.  And these trucks are in addition to currently running Xcel garbage burner ash trucks and in addition to RW’s Lot 1 “Public Works Maintenance Shops and Yards” trucks that will be at least an additional 15-30 pickups and trucks per day.
  • There’s sound…  The homes directly north, west, and southwest are above, with this project situated down in a hole — and sound travels up.  The “CUP Sound Study” is for the RW crusher, and does not take into account the Lab USA operation, so how does the EAW address that?
  • There’s dust…  From Mark Walsworth, who notes that “one of the items left out is just how much hazardous material that will be produced annually is not mentioned…all of it dust, and  that by themselves, these numbers should scare anyone!  Also notably missing is ANY plan or equipment to keep these from escaping to the environment.”

Lead        519,000 lbs

Cadmium       8,400 lbs

Chrome       51,000 lbs

Arsenic       6,000 lbs

Manganese   156,000 lbs

Nickel       24,600 lbs

Selenium      1,500 lbs

Mercury         600 lbs

  • On and on…

Here are two Letters to the Editor written by Alan Muller about this:

LTE  Muller – Mining Incinerator Ash is Foolish Idea  12-10-2015

LTE_Muller – Incinerator ash plan and actions behind it are toxic  3-31-2016

LTE_Walsworth – Mayor didn’t raise NIMBY_4-6-2016

LTE_Muller – NIMBY is good thing, NIABY is better  4-15-16

We need to take a look at that EAW (remember, it’s prepared by the applicant/project proponent) and see what is revealed, what is considered, and what’s left out.



Really, that’s what they said at a meeting where the operators of the Hibbing “biomass” plant were confronted with all the problems, dust, noise, neighbors fed up and bringing in the evidence.  This is the plant that was violating its air permit and was fined and shut down,
but of course air permit limits were INCREASED and it reopened.
GRRRRRRRRRR.  And when they were told to clean it up, given a deadline, they said:

“I think we need to sit down and prioritize these things and get our butts going,” said Fena.  “We should be able to tackle some of these issues, like some of the noise, right away. If we can’t, we  should be shot.”

Thanks to Charlotte Neigh for sending this in.  Let’s keep an eye on this one!  Ready… aim…

Commission vows to take action on dust, noise

Meeting draws more complaints from neighbors

by Kelly Grinsteinner
Assistant Editor

— Members of the Hibbing Public Utilities Commission (PUC) will have
just more than one month to devise a game plan on how to be better

The commission will hold another public forum, as it
did Monday evening, to address concerns raised by its neighbors about
fugitive dust and noise coming from the facility. The meeting will be
held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 14.

“We may not have a resolution,
but we will have a plan of attack,” Jim Fena, the commission’s newest
member, promised the room of more than 30 frustrated nearby residents.
“It will be top priority. We need to make progress on this, and do more
than give lip service.”

In the meanwhile, some analysis will be conducted on the fugitive dust
wiped up by neighbors and presented to the commission on Monday.

Kathy Nyberg handed over two black rags that were once blue. She has
used the rags to wipe her window sills.

“This can’t be healthy,” she said. “I clean. I get this. It’s in my house. I
breathe it. It’s going into my body, into my lungs. It can’t be

Linda Johnson said she
hoses down the swing set and scrubs the slide before she lets her
grandchildren use it. The fugitive dust and ash, she claims, has also
pitted the windshield of her vehicle and ruined the cover to her hot

Gerry Wyland showed photos — ash and coal dust on his home,
in the alley and even on his kids. The snapshot of children showed
their legs looking all muddy, but there was no mud, he noted.

“You are supposed to control this from happening,” he challenged the
commission. “You need to find a better way to suppress this.”

Mandy Gherardi spoke about how her children have endured allergies and
respiratory infections, which she feels may be attributed to the
utility’s fugitive dust and dirt.

“It’s something that’s going off in my head,” she said. “Something
needs to be done.”

Colleen Hall said she and her son suffer from asthma. They can’t hang out in
the back yard because of the fugitive dust and she is embarrassed to
entertain at home, she said.

“Everything is so filthy,” she added. “I can’t clean it. We can’t sell
it. We’re stuck.”

Several others spoke about putting new siding on their homes and making
improvements to their properties only to be discouraged when they find
soot, dust and grime everywhere.

“Are you going to help us clean?” Marianne Just asked the commission. “We all are rate payers,
but these are additional expenses out of our own pockets.”

Just gave the commission a bag of clothes filled with soot that she had
wiped from her glass table top over the period of a week.

Many neighbors agreed that the problem has compounded over the past three to
four years, which coincides with the Biomass project. HPU officials
also confirmed that the volume of coal and ash they have been burning
has nearly tripled.

Fena credited that to becoming more of an electricity-generating facility, a switch from the utility’s prior
years of producing mainly steam.

HPU is contractually obligated to produce so much electricity, be it by burning wood or coal. And the
utility is forced to burn more coal when the Biomass is down or when
wood supply is short.

“Because the process requires so much more, there will also be that much more dust and noise,” said Fena.
“We’re aware of the situation and aware of the rub. Now we have to deal
with it.”

Several neighbors talked about the noise annoyances, including the banging of gates on trucks, exhaust noise when two of the boilers run simultaneously and about a safety valve popping on and off
at night.

Bob VonAlman said the noise is so distracting that he can barely hold a conversation in his backyard. Jason Johnson said he hears trucks jake braking at unreasonable hours of the morning.

Linda Johnson imitated the irritating noise she hears coming from the plant.

“It’s sad when you wake up dreaming of WD-40,” she said.

HPU General Manager Jason Fisher outlined the steps the HPU has taken to
cut down on fugitive dust since December. Those efforts have included
installing belt cleaners on wood handling belts, enclosing one side of
the coal storage hut and installing spray nozzles on the coal-ash
handling system to wet the ash during unloading. He also said they
currently have a cost estimate for a hood for the receiving area.

In terms of noise, the utility has installed cameras to monitor trucks
unloading at the HPU to ensure drivers are doing their part to cut down
on noise. Fisher said that “has gotten better.”

The utility has also “made some corrections” to the safety valve on the wood boiler to
help alleviate that “gun shot sounds,” according to Fisher. They also
have a cost estimate for a baffle system for the stack of the combined

Chair John Berklich and Commissioner Gary Kleffman
commented on how surprised they were to hear so many, including some
new, complaints.

“I wish we would have known this to be able take some action,” said
Kleffman. “…We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Residents were encouraged to call the utility when the noises happen and when
they have complaints. In contrast to his predecessor, Fisher was
acknowledged by the neighbors for returning their phone calls and being

Neighbors first aired their concerns during a similar meeting that took place in mid-December. A couple of those parties had petitioned its commission at their regular meetings for
some time, but felt as though they had gone unheard.

Larry Schloesser has been vocal on the issue for some time. He’s lived across
the street for more than 30 years and said it’s never been so bad. He
advocated for building a wall about the entire facility.

“Keep yours on your side of the street, and I’ll keep to my side of the
street,” he said.

Rick Johnson has been along-side Schloesser advocating for something to be
done. He acknowledged that some things had been done, but said the big
problems aren’t fixed.

He accused Berklich and Kleffman of lip service, and asked when the commission was “going to admit this Biomass thing is a failure?”

Other suggestions offered by the neighbors included dismantling and moving Biomass, buying out homes surrounding the utility, paying to clean homes and talking with companies like Excel and Minnesota Power to relax contracts to cut back on the facility’s current capacity.

Several comments were made that HPU needs to determine whether the fugitive dust is posing a health risk, which could be more costly in the long-run if it is.

The meeting was the first time Fena was on the receiving end of the complaints.
After listening to the many grievances, he vowed that the utility would
address some of the issues immediately.

“I think we need to sit down and prioritize these things and get our butts going,” said Fena.
“We should be able to tackle some of these issues, like some of the noise, right away. If we can’t, we should be shot.”

Kelly Grinsteinner can be reached at kelly.grinsteinner@mx3.com.
To read this story and comment on it online go to www.hibbingmn.com