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