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Lab USA permit approved

On Monday, Red Wing City Council voted 5-2 to approve the Lab USA conditional use permit, and voted 6-1 to allow the excavation of ash on the site and to approve a lease with Lab USA. The lease is contingent upon approval from Xcel Energy. Council members John Becker and Dean Hove voted against the conditional use permit — Becker voted against all three Lab USA-related measures.

The vote followed two public hearings held by the Sustainability and Advisory Planning commissions April 19. While both commissions recommended approval of the project, they each added conditions based largely on residents' concerns.

Conditions include: biannual air monitoring reports that will be sent to the Community Development Department, that no ash from Xcel Energy's French Island facility will be permitted at the Red Wing site, and Lab USA will be required to provide insurance coverage for anything that might go wrong with the project.

Brian Peterson, special projects manager for the city, reiterated that no construction would begin until an additional archaeology study of the area is completed in conjunction with the state archaeologist.

Still, some residents continue to have reservations about the project.

At the start of Monday's discussion on the topic, Council President Kim Beise explained that there would be no public comment, citing the April 19 hearings.

A group of residents, largely those who spoke out against the project April 19, voiced their displeasure at the lack of a public comment period.

"For the record, I strongly object to that decision," interjected Carol Overland, a Red Wing attorney and frequent critic of the Lab USA project.

Prior to the meeting, the city did respond to questions received after the April 19 hearings.

The questions, along with responses from the city, Xcel Energy and Lab USA, can be viewed online by accessing the April 24 council agenda. Similar to many concerns raised by residents at the April 19 hearing, most of the submissions questioned the credibility of the environmental assessment worksheet released last month.

Council member Evan Brown specifically addressed the EAW.

"I first reviewed this project as chair of the Sustainability Commission. I know there are a lot of people who have concerns. I want to reiterate that the EAW was conducted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. If we go down the road where that is not a credible document — that is a strange place to wind up. Nothing becomes credible and everything becomes suspect. I have to take seriously the negative declaration by the MPCA," concluded Brown.

"I think that environmentally, this is the right thing to do," Council member Peggy Rehder said. "While it's not practical yet to reuse the ash, we want to have it available to reuse." Rehder also confirmed that if any conditions of the permit are violated, the city could terminate the agreement within 10 days.

Not every council member was comfortable with the project.

Becker, who visited the Lab USA facility in Washington state with Rehder and Beise, had concerns.

"I'm not comfortable with the agreement. Is this a good business deal for Red Wing? I'm very cautious about this, and I don't see a reason for the urgency," he said. "The ash isn't going anywhere. I think we're acting a little premature."

Ultimately, the majority of City Council agreed with the Sustainability and Advisory Planning commissions, and voted 5-2 to approve the Lab USA permit.