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Meeting opens discussion on ash processing facility

Red Wing residents whose homes surround the site of a proposed ash processing facility will not notice increased noise and dust levels following the building's completion, according to a study the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency published this week.

The 30,000-square-foot building is slated for a 3.4 acre lot Xcel Energy owns west of Bench Street between Pioneer Road and Highway 61. If completed, the facility will process combustor ash from Xcel's incinerator on the east end of town to recover ferrous and non-ferrous metals.

The MPCA recently released an environmental assessment worksheet for the project to evaluate potential environmental impacts. A public comment period for the study opened Monday and will last until Jan. 4, 2017.

Although the proposal failed to trigger a mandatory evaluation, its Green Bay-based developer Lab USA opted for the study in response to concern from the community.

"What we wanted to do was to make sure people have a good opportunity to get accurate information and ask questions to the MPCA so that they're answered and everyone feels good about the knowledge they have," Lab USA CEO Brent Dubois said at a public meeting on the study Wednesday night.

Representatives from Lab USA, Xcel Energy, the MPCA and the city of Red Wing were available at the meeting to answer questions and discuss the project with the public.

"The city wants to be completely open and hear from everybody, make sure everybody's ideas and concerns, questions are heard and answered," Planning Director Brian Peterson said. "We think this is a great process where a third-party state agency that isn't here locally is in charge of this process and can evaluate these comments and concerns as a third party."

The proposed facility would process up to 150,000 tons of combustor ash per year, yielding an estimated 15,000 tons of recovered metals per year. The city plans to lease the land, which it will then sublease to Lab USA.

Jeff Schneider, deputy director of solid waste with the city, said the facility would help the city create jobs, reduce the volume of materials in the landfill and "do the right thing environmentally."

"It is taking metals that can be recovered, so you don't have to get virgin ore," he said. "It's a commodity that can be used in local manufacturing potentially down the road. ... It's really following through with the city's commitment to managing our waste stream in the most environmentally preferential way possible."

Dust and noise

Airborne dust particles are among the most common concerns some residents of the surrounding neighborhood cited with the project.

Mike and Sherri Stensland live on Cougar Court, where their back deck faces the existing Xcel Energy ash disposal facility.

Sherri recalls a particularly hot and dry summer several years ago, when she noticed an accumulation of dust on her back deck, which faces toward the existing Xcel Energy ash disposal facility.

"We had a potted plant out there, and when we moved it you could significantly see where the the dust had collected compared to under the pot," she said. "Mike power washes every year, so obviously that had happened over the course of just one season."

According to the EAW, "excavating, offloading, processing, storage, and loading activities will not contribute any significant dust because combustor ash is not considered a dust source."

Additionally, the study said, operations offloading, processing, storage, and loading activities will occur inside the process building.

The study estimates moisture conditions of 4 percent or more would eliminate or minimizes dust emissions. Lab USA indicated moisture contents of 22 to 29 percent for the combustor ash, similar to moist gravel or clay.

"When it comes out of the back of those trucks, it doesn't much tumble as it does flow," Schneider said. "It's more like a slurry than it is dry rocks tumbling out like a dump truck."

The Stenslands also worry about increased noise, particularly beeping from trucks backing up.

"We only plan on operating Monday through Friday, so you won't have the noise on the weekends," DuBois said. "We plan on using off-road trucks to bring the ash back to the landfill, and those don't have tailgates, so there will be no more tail gate slamming up on the landfill site."

Processing ash will take place weekdays, with the option of Saturday mornings for maintenance.


Theresa Walsworth purchased property toward the end of Cougar Court with the intention of building a home. The prospect of an additional facility nearby, however, deterred her from construction.

"At this point we're not sure we're going to build there because what would be next?" she said. "Will this be the end of it? We're not going to live long enough to for them to actually finish this project 10 years from now. I'm not sure that's how we want it to go, so it will have an affect on whether or not we start building on this property."

Although she is receptive to the idea of metal recovery through ash processing, she said a more rural location would be better suited.

The Stenslands share their potential neighbor's concern.

"I think (the facility) would be fine in a rural environment, but if you look there, it's a lot of residential space," he said. "We've already brought the concrete crusher into that area. My concern is what the city and Xcel have planned for the future."

A public comment for the EAW opened Monday. Written comments on the worksheet must be received by 4:30 p.m. Jan. 4. Comments can be submitted by to or by mail to Kevin Kain, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, 520 Lafayette Road N., St. Paul, MN 55155-4194.

Kain is available to answer questions by phone at 651-757-2482.