Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Northern Metals Public Comments

Post and image by Jeff Skrenes,  Hawthorne Neighborhood Council Housing Director.

The Northern Metals Environmental Assessment Worksheet process has resulted in sixty-nine public comments received by the MPCA.  A list of those comments shows who is on the side of the community and who is not.

The final tally may be inexact.  Several organizations have multiple letters included.  Councilmember Hofstede included a series of letters, although some of those people submitted their own comments as well.  However, my best count is this:  Fifty-five people or organizations submitted comments that were either against any increase, or in support of a full Environmental Impact Statement, or expressed serious reservations about the application.  Four letters were written stating that an organizational entity had no position on the matter.  Three letters (one from Northern Metals itself) supported granting the permit.

That's right.  More people took the time to comment that they had no position than those who support the increase in pollution.  A breakdown of who said what is after the jump.

Monday, June 25, 2012

New Northern Metals Ruling Issued

Post by Jeff Skrenes, Hawthorne Neighborhood Council Housing Director.

On June 19, Judge David C. Higgs ruled on the tangled legal web brought to us by Northern Metals.  The Order can be found here, and for the most part it seems beneficial to the community.  As a layman, there are a few significant developments I see that I hope to correctly interpret and point out.

First, the orders to stay proceedings are vacated.  That would seem to be necessary if for no other reason than to bring the case out of legal limbo.  Second, Northern Metals' requests for monetary damages are denied.  Those requests seemed to have little chance of success, and appeared to be little more than a legal bullying attempt.  Still, if they would have been granted, chances of Northern Metals failing to obtain their pollution permit would be much greater.

Finally, the MPCA is ordered to make its decision on an Environmental Impact Statement "as soon as it is administratively feasible for a meeting to take place."  This was the ruling that I and many others had anticipated would come down in some form.  We knew that the most likely decision from a judge would be that the MPCA would be told, "Ok, it's time to make a decision here.  You've got however long to do it."

Where things get really interesting is in the page-and-a-half Memorandum that follows Higgs' Order.  Remember now, this whole mess got started when a Writ of Mandamus was issued that essentially forced the MPCA into an unprecedented legal corner.  During that proceeding, and those that followed, Northern Metals has apparently asked the court to limit the criteria on which the MPCA can make its decisions surrounding the draft permit, an environmental assessment worksheet, or a full environmental impact statement.  Higgs declines to place such limitations on the MPCA.

"The district court has no right to interfere with an administrative agency which is proposing to act in a manner properly within the scope of its responsibility until final action is taken...A restriction, by this Court, on the evidence that the MPCA may receive and consider is improper as it unduly interferes with the MPCA's decision-making authority."
In essence, Judge Higgs tells Northern Metals that the MPCA is doing what it is supposed to be doing, and as long as that keeps up, the courts have no right, much less a desire, to interfere.  Now the ball is back in the MPCA's court, and hopefully the public hearing (that was just about to take place before the last court order) will resume.

**On a final technicality, there has been some minute hand-wringing over whether the petitioner in this case is Northern Metal or Northern Metals, pluralized.  Some have said that the name is actually Northern Metal.  However, since the Order clearly identifies "Northern Metals" as the petitioner, and since people throughout the community frequently refer to the company as such in speaking, I will continue to use "Northern Metals" when writing about this case.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

(Drum Roll Please) Announcing the 2012 Tree Nursery Lineup!

Post and photos (except where credited otherwise) by Jeff Skrenes, Hawthorne Neighborhood Council Housing Director.

The Hawthorne EcoVillage tree nursery has received a shipment of thirty trees for 2012.  We have ten Ironwood trees, ten Fall Fiesta Maple trees, and ten Bur Oak trees.  These are free for anyone who owns property (or renters who have permission from property owners) in north Minneapolis.  They are available on a first come, first served basis.  The cat in the photo above has first dibs though.

The EcoVillage tree nursery is located at 404 31st Avenue North, and trees will be available for their first round of distribution on Saturday June 2nd, 9:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon.  For more information, please feel free to contact the Hawthorne Neighborhood Council office at 612-529-6033 x204 or jskrenes@hawthorneneighborhoodcouncil.org.

Our partners at Tree Trust have put together a handy little sheet that shows pictures of the trees they have available, including the three kinds in the EcoVillage.  And like last year, I'm including a photo of what the trees look like in the nursery along with a photo of what they will look like when they are mature.

Ironwood in the nursery
A more mature Ironwood tree, photo from the city of Blaine.
The Fall Fiesta Sugar Maple in the nursery.
The above sugar maple showing why it's called a Fall Fiesta.  Photo from Knecht's Nursery.
The Bur Oak in the nursery
A mature Bur Oak, courtesy of Bachmann's.
If you can't make it to the distribution on Saturday, feel free to call the Hawthorne office or email me to schedule a pick-up time, so you can give a tree a new home in north Minneapolis!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Layman's Summary of the Northern Metals Legal Wrangling

Post and photos by Jeff Skrenes, Hawthorne Neighborhood Council Housing Director.

"Dramatic" and "roller coaster" are two words rarely associated with something as dry and bureaucratic as a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizens' Advisory Board meeting.  But those two descriptions certainly applied on Monday, March 26th as the board took up the issue of Northern Metals' request for increases in their pollution limits.  The board had taken up consideration of whether to approve the request or require a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  In part because there has been no public meeting on the application yet, over forty residents and employees within North  Minneapolis took time out of their workday to attend the hearing and speak on the issue.  We were also supported by many of our elected officials, including Linda Higgins, Bobby Joe Champion, Joe Mullery, Barb Johnson, Diane Hofstede, Kari Dziedzic, Phyllis Kahn, and Jon Olson.

But even arriving at this point was a long and winding road.  In recent months, it started with Northern Metals applying for what amounts to increases in pollutant levels and decreases in emissions testing and requirements.  Public meetings were announced and subsequently cancelled.  The MPCA realized that their calculations around particulate matter emissions were inaccurate.  As they were in the process of reworking that data set, Northern Metals did an end-around on the process by going to a judge to issue a peremptory writ of mandamus.  That legal wrangling essentially required the MPCA to take up the matter at their next board meeting.

The writ had several extenuating circumstances that were quite rare.  First, it appears the MPCA had not even received notification of its filing, and had no chance to represent itself at the hearing.  Second, the district court website biography for the judge in the matter, Elena Ostby, indicates that she once worked for the same law firm, Briggs & Morgan, as the attorney representing Northern Metals.  Finally, it appears that this particular ruling is unprecedented in the history of Minnesota.  The highly unusual--and frankly, rather suspect--sequence of events meant that the MPCA was working feverishly to overturn or at least slow down the judge's order.  And many environmental justice groups were watching these proceedings with bated breath.

But because Ostby issued that order, the MPCA had to proceed assuming it would not be overturned.  In those proceedings, the staff issued a recommendation that a full Environmental Impact Statement be issued.  Short of a flat-out denial of the permit application, an EIS is about the best thing the community could ask for.  The current draft permit application and Environmental Assessment Worksheet is rather limited in scope - on top of the fact that the particulate matter emissions data is inaccurate.  A full EIS would allow for more accurate information, but it would also allow a broader scope of criteria.

In an EIS, we could look at environmental justice issues, such as how low-income and minority communities are disproportionately affected by asthma and other diseases and hospitalizations related to elevated pollution levels.  We could look at future land use policies, such as the Above the Falls master plan and the Mississippi Riverfront Design Initiative.  Both of those plans call for more and expanded bike, pedestrian, and park usage along the Mississippi River, much of which would be directly adjacent to the Northern Metals facility.

I asked many of our elected officials how much weight the staff recommendation for an EIS carried with this board.  No one could think of a time when the staff recommendation was overturned or ignored.  It was possible that the recommendation for an EIS could get some minor adjustments to it, but highly unlikely that it would be disregarded by the board.  Amid all the consternation, the most probable outcome of the hearing was a required EIS of some kind.

Since the MPCA did not want to be legally outmaneuvered, and since Northern Metals did not want the burden of an EIS, we were unclear as to who initiated the order to stop the day's proceedings.  Luckily, I snapped a photo of the judge's order.  (Ostby recused herself and a new judge had been appointed.)  That order shows Northern Metals as the plaintiff.  However, I am unsure if Northern Metals simply remained as the plaintiff since they initiated the writ of mandamus.

In any case, the court order reads...

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Northern Metals Update

The Northern Metals courtroom saga is well-documented elsewhere, but Hawthorne wishes to provide the following update:
The Citizens' Advisory Board meets on March 26-27. On the 26th, the meeting starts at 1:00 p.m. They will take public testimony at that time. On March 27, the meeting starts at 9:00 a.m. and no public testimony will be done then. We are encouraged, though to bring as many people to both meeting times as we are able.

Public comments will be accepted up to five calendar days before the meeting on the 26th. To be on the safe side, comments should be submitted by March 20. This includes the change.org petition. Please direct public comments to William.Lynott@state.mn.us. The board will be given copies of all public comments.

It will also be helpful for the MPCA to get a list of those who wish to speak at the hearing on the 26th.

That hearing is at 520 Lafayette Road in St. Paul, and can accommodate between 200 and 250 people. Let's put that number to the test. Who can come?

Friday, February 03, 2012

Northern Metal Resolution for Precinct Caucuses

The Hawthorne Neighborhood Council strongly opposes the application by Northern Metal Recycling to increase their permitted levels of pollution.  We are asking everyone to attend their precinct caucuses on Tuesday, February 7th.  Click here for the Secretary of State link to your area's and your party's precinct caucus.

One of the ways you can help the Hawthorne neighborhood and all who value the Mississippi River is to bring a resolution to your precinct caucus.  If enough resolutions make it through this process, then the issue becomes a part of the party's platform as a whole.  And if that happens, we can use that platform as a way to lobby our elected officials both here and statewide to support protecting our residents and our river.

Please bring the following resolution with you to your precinct caucus and submit it as part of your party's platform.

WHEREAS the Minneapolis lakes, rivers, waterways, and riverfronts are world class and are vitally important to Minneapolis’ economy, and;

WHEREAS the City’s lakes, rivers, waterways, and waterfront provide recreational pleasure and enjoyment to residents and visitors, and;

WHEREAS Northern Metals Recycling, Inc. is a business located at 2800 Pacific Street, near the Mississippi River, near Ole Olson Park, and adjacent to a proposed land bridge connecting north Minneapolis residents to the Mississippi, and;

WHEREAS Northern Metals Recycling is applying for a permit to increase particulate matter emissions by 1,000% and hazardous air pollutants by 300%, and;

WHEREAS Northern Metals has not complied with its existing permits; in December 2009 performance tests showed particulate matter emissions exceeded the permitted levels by 204% and mercury emissions exceeded permitted levels by 32%, and;

WHEREAS the proposed increased emission levels could double the risk of cancer in the immediate area, could increase the risk of cancer among urban gardeners by 50%, and increase acute inhalation of particulate matter by a factor of 5.5, and;

WHEREAS residents of Minneapolis believe that it is important to protect natural resources, built resources, and community amenities for all people along the Mississippi River corridor against pollutants and other environmental hazards,

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the ___________________ Party support the full enforcement of all particulate matter and hazardous air pollutants at or below the currently permitted levels along the Mississippi River, and;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the ___________________ Party support a full Environmental Impact Study and a full Environmental Assessment Worksheet for any entity applying to increase said emission levels along the Mississippi River.