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Residents cried foul over Mt. Carmel proposal

Earlier in 2010 city officials proposed buying 340 acres of bluff top near the western edge of Red Wing to use as a depository for treated wastewater sludge.

The nearby residents of the Mt. Carmel neighborhood protested. In the end they were convinced the City Council to nix the plan.

"When we first came, I didn't think we'd be listened to at all by council, staff, and commissioners. I was proved totally wrong," Mt. Carmel resident John Sachen told the R-E in February after the proposal died.

"It proves you can fight city hall."

Initially residents voiced concerns that the sludge would hurt the local environment and possibly human health.

City officials noted the city has been giving the sludge -- sometimes referred to as biosolids -- to farmers for years. The farmers use it as a fertilizer. They also noted the practice is approved by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Environmental Protection Agency.

They were able to convince some residents that applying the sludge to farmland was safe. Others remained unconvinced.

But as the debate evolved, the primary criticism of the proposal became its price tag.

The city was looking at buying the land for $1.75 million. Numerous residents said that was simply too much given the city's financial straits.

Public Works had proposed the purchase because the city had been spending money to send its excess sludge to other communities. That practice was not only costly but also precarious -- because if other communities ran out of storage space, as Red Wing had, Red Wing might be left with too much sludge and nowhere to take it.

As city commissions reviewed the plan in January and February, residents continued to voice their objections.

Ultimately, the council agreed with the critics and dropped the proposal. Council directed Public Works to search for more farmers who will take the waste.