BLUE EARTH - The Faribault County Planning and Zoning Commission looked at how best to protect the Blue Earth River by gathering public input Monday.
The county is considering an interim ordinance study on the impact of pipelines discharging into the river.
In March, county commissioners charged county staff, headed by Michele Stindtman, program administrator of Faribault County Soil and Water, to study the impact wastewater pipelines could have on the county and protected bodies of water. On Monday, Stindtman explained the study, including water quality and quantity, environmental degradation, and safety.
"This is a [wide-ranging study] of what could come up," said County Attorney Troy Timmerman.
The study is ongoing and a report will be given to county commissioners on Sept. 20.
Zoning commission chairman Charlie Johnson opened Monday's meeting to comments from the public. The first to speak was Rick Yabroff, director of environmental health and safety for Biofuel Energy Corp. One of the catalysts for the study is a request by Buffalo Lake Energy of Fairmont - owned by Biofuel Energy - to build a pipeline across the county line to discharge wastewater into the river.
Yabroff gave a brief update on the project, as well as efforts between Buffalo Lake and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to finalize a wastewater discharge permit that expired in July. State law has changed, prohibiting Buffalo Lake from continuing to discharge wastewater into Center Creek.
"We never wanted to build a pipeline, but because of circumstances regarding our permit, we had to pick an option," Yabroff said. "We have identified an option that will allow us to not have a discharge at all." However, he cautioned that that option has not been approved by the Pollution Control Agency. Therefore a pipeline to the river "is not off the table."
Yabroff said Buffalo Lake is negotiating with the agency for an extension of its existing permit to discharge into Center Creek, which could mean Buffalo Lake won't need a pipeline.
"We're hopeful [the pipeline] will never happen," Yabroff said.
He noted that when companies consider a location, one thing they look at are the ordinances that have been passed and compare regulations between counties. If a company sees that Faribault County has expensive regulations in place that other counties don't have, it will keep companies from coming, he said.
"Don't think about Buffalo Lake; think about these companies in the future," he said.
Erwin Jansen of Elmore was thinking about the environment when he recalled how polluted the river was in the past.
"When I was a kid, you couldn't catch a game fish in that river; now you can," he said.
Jansen wants to know who will pay if the environment is destroyed.
Loren Lein of Blue Earth wants to know what happens in the case of an emergency. He asked: Can the Pollution Control Agency give permission to get rid of the wastewater in special circumstances? Can the wastewater be checked and tested at the county line?
"It's important to get this ordinance in place to handle these problems," he said.
County Commissioner Greg Young pointed out that the river has a certain capacity and asked the zoning commission to assess a certain percentage of the capacity to each project, reserving a percentage for discretionary use. He also suggested there should be a high flow rate and a low flow rate determined for the river.
Lucas Jansen said he once worked for Biofuel doing sampling and tests. He wanted to know who is going to be testing the discharge at Buffalo Lake.
Dennis Warner of Blue Earth asked how Faribault County can accept wastewater from another county's factory.
"The state supercedes us in many instances," said Tom Loveall, a member of the zoning commission and a county commissioner. "We can go beyond them, but we can't undermine them. Does the state pre-empt us from doing more testing - that's the next phase to this [research]."
Lee Ganzke of the Mankato office of the MPCA said there are many different discharges of wastewater, such as stormwater runoff.
"The primary responsibility to ensure wastewater is not causing undue harm does fall to our agency," he said, adding "Local government has the ability to be more restrictive than the state."
Loveall said one of the primary concerns is that after working so hard to get the water in the county cleaned up, no one has the desire to let the water quality deteriorate again.
Timmerman said the zoning commission will look at the concerns raised Monday and incorporate them into the study.
"If we go the ordinance route, there will be public hearings," he added.