BLUE EARTH - The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is inching closer to a ruling on a wastewater pipeline running from Buffalo Lake Energy's ethanol plant in Fairmont to the Blue Earth River.
Michele Stindtman of Faribault County Soil & Water was appointed March 17 by county commissioners to study the impact the pipeline's discharge would have on the river. Stindtman said the committee conducting the study has made "a good start" and will meet monthly.
She also said she is in weekly contact with Jim Strudell of the Pollution Control Agency.
One of the things she has learned is that Buffalo Lake is moving ahead with construction of the pipe. Because that was the option in the proposal Buffalo Lake presented to the state, Stindtman said, the company must move forward while waiting for the agency's ruling on whether to issue a permit for the pipeline.
"Can the MPCA issue the permit (allowing the pipeline) while the (Faribault County) moratorium is in place?" asked Chairman Tom Warmka.
Yes, answered County Attorney Troy Timmerman, but Buffalo Lake would be unable to build the pipeline in Faribault County while the moratorium is in effect.
"They could build in Martin County and wait for the moratorium to run out," Warmka noted.
"The MPCA is close to drafting the permit," Stindtman reported, adding they are still addressing concerns about the amount of phosphorous, nitrogen and selenium in the water.
Wikipedia describes selenium as "a nonmetal, chemically related to sulfur and tellurium."
"Selenium is a trace mineral that is essential to good health but required only in small amounts," according to the Web site ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/selenium
Once the permit is drafted, there would be opportunities for public input, such as public hearings, Stindtman said.
She said Buffalo Lake also is working on some other options, including discharging wastewater into the Chain of Lakes; getting the designation of Center Creek changed so Buffalo Lake could continue to discharge there; looking at an evaporation/crystallization process; and an interim plan of removing wastewater by truck or train to another location.
Stindtman said some companies use this last method as their primary way of disposal.
"Whatever we do, this county will have to live with," said Commissioner Tom Loveall.
Turning to another matter, commissioners were split on what to do about health insurance for retiring employees.
Brenda Ripley of Central Services presented the latest update in the negotiations, which sparked a debate.
"We should sit on it," Loveall said.
"We have a contract with the employees and I'm not going to support this at all," Warmka said. "I know this is meant as a cost savings. I'd support it if it started in 2012."
"I kind of disagree with some of those things," Loveall said. "We should continue tabling this and see what we have when we're done negotiating with the unions and non-union" adding that there is a tentative agreement on many of the issues.
"I agree with the chairman's point of view," said Commissioner Greg Young. "If we had an agreement, I hate reneging. Let's start with a fresh set of people."
He pointed out that the county might lose "good employees" who opt to retire so they can benefit from the old agreement.
"That dynamic always exists," Loveall said.
"I'm not against it, but I will not vote for it," said Commissioner John Roper, who added that he has some questions about how the new agreement will work. "We've entered into an agreement with employees; we honor it until they're gone."
"Ask General Motors, Ford, what they did to their people," challenged Commissioner Bill Groskreutz. "People are taking huge cuts in benefits packages and pay cuts just to keep working."
Commissioners voted 3-1 to table the discussion, with Groskreutz, Loveall and Roper voting to table and Young dissenting.
The personnel committee will continue to negotiate, Warmka said.
If a new agreement is not reached, Young asked if the contract will revert to the old conditions on Jan. 1. When he was told yes, he expressed a fear that a strike could be used to force an agreement being accepted.
In other business, commissioners:
o Approved the purchase of a vehicle for the transit system for $62,000, "hugely subsidized by MNDOT," Loveall said. The local share is 20 percent and the state/federal share is 80 percent.
o Approved a maximum amount of $22,000 to help with repairs to Judicial Ditch 4, west of Guckeen, where the tile was blocked or had collapsed.
o Voted to install and improve the railroad crossings on County Road 13 at Delavan and County Road 21 south of Minnesota Lake for $444,000. The state will pay $387,000 and the county will pay $57,000.
o Accepted a bid of $291,600 for sealcoat oil by Flint Hills Resources LP of West Fargo, N.D.