July 8, 2010 at 8:15 a.m.

Hot mix plant complaints inter-mingle with public input at hearing on permits

Hot mix plant complaints inter-mingle with public input at hearing on permits
Hot mix plant complaints inter-mingle with public input at hearing on permits

The facts surrounding the permitting for a hot mix plant on the Washington-Chisago County border are about as foggy as the air around the emission stack when the steaming asphalt hopper is being filled. As Chisago City officials struggle to respond to this plant, which may or may not be operating legally, dozens of neighbors are so irritated they are demanding an immediate plant shutdown.

The hot mix operation runs all night long, it spews toxic emissions, and it generates speeding noisy truck traffic. This is what the neighbors stated at last week's public hearing on revisions to a mineral extraction ordinance. At the same hearing, however, plant owner Harddrives, which is operating in Dresel Contracting's gravel pit, and Dresel, disputed these claims. An operations log was provided to city officials and Josh Dresel said there have been no more than four nights that the mix plant has been operating since the hot equipment was fired-up in 2009.

The audience was advised that the city can not act arbitrarily, or "rashly" as one city official put it, and go in and shutdown the operation.

There are extenuating circumstances complicating this.

Until recently the parcel was governed by Wyoming Township. When the township dissolved, this tract came into Chisago City. There reportedly is a "temporary" township approved permit on file somewhere okaying a hot mix plant, which Chisago City Administrator John Pechman said probably is no longer valid.

In an effort to see to it that anti-pollution and public health regulations are being applied at this site; and that the proper regulatory agencies get involved, the city has asked Dresel to apply for a permit, which the audience was told would be filed in August.

Planning Commission Chair Chris DuBose reminded everybody the hearing last week was only for a citywide ordinance and not just this specific plant. Still, in the end, conditions were added into the ordinance that came out of comments made during this hearing.

All the neighbors who spoke at last week's meeting on the ordinance revisions said they have no issues with the gravel pit.

The Dresel family and Ron Swenson, who has adjacent land involved in mining, have been terrific pit operators, according to those who spoke.

Nobody offered anything negative about the longtime gravel pit...but the hot mix operation is another story.

Chisago City adopted its latest version of a municipal mineral extraction and manufacturing ordinance May 11.

The city continued to receive complaints about this pit, (see map) so the city council directed the city planning commission to hold a hearing and council provided issues it was concerned about, for the commission to look at in the ordinance.

The citizens attending last week's planning commission hearing were allowed to speak at length about the hot mix operation even though the hearing was only supposed to be about the general ordinance.

The actual use permit, allowing the hot mix plant, will be applied for (or re-applied for depending on who you ask) in August. At that time specific conditions could be added for this site on the use permit.

Chisago City inherited this situation, and it's trying to respond in a manner fair to both sides, Planning Commission Chair DuBose explained.

An additional factor blurring this issue is that Dresel's land is on the countyline.

Many neighbors affected by this hot mix operation reside in another county; they don't read this newspaper, they don't get the Chisago City newsletters, they don't see the public notices posted in local places. Official actions Chisago City might take will affect their property, but laws don't require notice to non-Chisago City taxpayers for certain official actions.

Tom Rosner, group spokesperson, said nobody knew the site was zoned industrial, everybody he met thought it was agricultural. He asked the city to do whatever it can so as not to "ostracize" that area.

Ordinance revisions that were recommended, after over two hours of debate and comments include:

~ The notice requirements for permits under the mining ordinance are expanded to 1,050 feet from any applicant's parcel.

~ Staff is authorized to approve any requests from approved operators for night operation.

~ Setbacks for gravel screeners, crushers or other processing equipment and manufacturing equipment were increased to 750 feet from any dwelling, without berming in place, and 250 feet when berming is present.

~ No mining or stockpiling will happen within 200 feet of an occupied structure that was in place at the time of original permitting.

~ The 8 p.m. closing for pits was changed to 7 p.m.

~ Night operation restricted to no more than 30 days per calendar year and Monday through Friday only.

~ Lighting, noise standards and dust control are also included in the ordinance.

~ All applicable state and federal permits must be supplied by applicant, so authorized regulatory agencies can monitor groundwater, emissions, etc.

The Chisago City Council meets July 13 and action to enact the ordinance as revised, is on the agenda.


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