GOOD THUNDER — A plan to build a compost facility near Good Thunder is on hold while the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency decides whether more environmental reviews need to be conducted.
Area residents filed a petition requesting a so-called environmental assessment worksheet or EAW be required before Full Circle Organics can get its permit.
That request was discussed Tuesday during a pre-scheduled contested case hearing in St. Paul before the agency’s citizens board. The agenda for that meeting was originally about a separate issue: whether the permit review would go to an administrative law judge, said Jess Richards, assistant director of the agency’s resource management and assistance division.
But that decision was put on hold after the board decided to wait for an agency ruling on the environmental review request.
The Tuesday meeting lasted more than four hours, said Brenda Wilcox, who lives about a quarter mile from the proposed site.
She said she was satisfied by the hearing itself. “People were willing to listen,” she said.
Wilcox said her biggest problem is the lack of environmental review conducted at the site before it was approved by Blue Earth County. The County Board approved its permit for the compost operation on April 24 on a 3-to-2 vote.
She said the agency has added a few stipulations to the permit, but it hasn’t gone far enough.
“We just don’t believe the site belongs there,” she said. “It should be in an industrial, not agricultural, site.”
While the agency had previously decided not to perform an EAW, “there’s always the opportunity for people to petition an EAW on any project,” Richards said.
Wilcox said she has asthma and composting operations throw toxins in the air — “there are literally hundreds.”
“These sites are going to give off toxins, macro and micro-organisms, carcinogens, metal traces, lead, mercury, cadmium,” she said. “All of this is in a field. We have small creeks that run into both the Maple and the Cobb (rivers).”
The man behind the project, Max Milinkovich, said he was a bit surprised by the delay but said it’s just part of the process, and he’s not upset about it.
As for the environmental assessment worksheet, he said, “It’s not a burden at all.”
But a delay could make construction more costly. “The longer it gets delayed, we’re looking into frost as far as construction,” he said.
Milinkovich declined to respond to the environmental allegations of his project’s opponents.
If not for the citizens’ objection, Full Circle Organics would likely have its permit by now, Richards said. The MPCA had earlier said it was inclined to approve the permit request. The agency sees composting as one way to keep food waste out of landfills. Such facilities are rare; this one would be the first in south-central Minnesota.
Sherri Nachtigal, an MPCA engineer based in Rochester, said this permit already has more restrictions added than other composting sites.
“It does make a difference. It’s more protective,” she said.
So, what’s next?
There are basically two separate, but interwoven, regulatory tasks: a decision about whether or not more environmental reviews are required, and a decision about the permit going to an administrative law judge.
The MPCA has to make the environmental review decision in under three weeks or so. The department can make that decision itself, bring it to the citizens board, or a board member can ask to bring it there.
The law judge decision will wait until the citizens board’s next hearing, on Aug. 28.