Audience protests Columbus asphalt plant

Julie Parent
Columbus Reporter

Residents of Columbus and the surrounding area voiced their concerns about a proposed asphalt plant in the city during a July 26 City Council meeting.

Kent Peterson, CEO of Bituminous Roadways Inc., has signed a purchase agreement for the property at 13345 and 13363 W. Freeway Drive in Columbus. This “Triangle” property is located just south of the Interstate Highway 35 split near Running Aces Casino and Racetrack. Peterson would like to build a Bituminous Roadways state-of-the-art facility on the property to produce asphalt for paving projects within a 15-mile radius of the plant.

At the July 26 meeting, Kenneth Rohlf, an attorney representing Peterson, asked the Columbus City Council to table the pending preliminary plat application until some of the text regarding the asphalt plant, the outdoor storage, and the sewer hookup could be amended. The council agreed to the request.

However, local residents and neighbors of the proposed site still had plenty to say and ask on the matter.

Local attorney Anthony Edwards requested on behalf of concerned residents and himself that Bituminous Roadways complete an environmental assessment worksheet to determine if the company’s operations will affect the environment.

Columbus Mayor Dave Povolny asked Peterson if he was willing to pay to complete the environmental assessment worksheet if the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board determined it was necessary, which would delay his building timeline. Peterson said he was willing to pay for the study and to wait to build as long as necessary. He believes Bituminous Roadways already meets environmental requirements, citing its reputable sites in Shakopee, Inver Grove Heights, and Minneapolis. These locations are near Canterbury Park, other businesses, schools and a children’s hospital, and Peterson said they haven’t had any issues.

Povolny also asked if Peterson was willing to make concessions for the public, such as putting tarps over its trucks for dust control. Peterson said he would work with the public as long as their concerns were within reason.

Edwards, Running Aces CEO Taro Ito and veterinarian Dr. Lynn Hovda appeared before the council to voice their opinions. They had approximately 1,000 signatures on a petition from people who didn’t want the asphalt company in Columbus. The veterinarian said dust particles and noise created by hauling and crushing concrete could threaten the health of the racing horses. If Bituminous Roadways creates hazards, Ito argued, people won’t bring their racing horses to Running Aces. He postulated that if Running Aces cannot hold a certain number of races per year, the entire operation could be negatively affected and may eventually have to close. Ito said he did not understand why the council would allow a small company to come to Columbus if it meant economically jeopardizing Running Aces, which employs 750 people and provides significant revenue to the city.

Ito felt the council was making decisions about the asphalt plant abruptly and rapidly, but Councilman Bill Krebs pointed out that the council has been talking about developing this area since September 2016.

“Why is it a big deal now that Bituminous wants to come?” he asked.

Krebs wondered if Running Aces was going to object to every new business that wanted to open in that area.

Povolny pointed out that people originally thought the casino would bring illegal drugs or sex trafficking to Columbus, but the city bent over backward to get the business to locate there and those things didn’t happen. He said he doesn’t want the racetrack to prevent future development in the area.

Resident Thomas Olson said his wife has asthma. He asked the council members if they were going to pay her medical bills if her symptoms got worse.

Margaret Coffman said she thought developing that area meant the city would get a retail store or a restaurant, not a noisy asphalt company (however, the area is currently zoned as light industrial). She thought the asphalt plant would ruin the vision of the city.

Norma Heuer, a 61-year resident of neighboring Lino Lakes, asked the council to give her one reason, other than money, why it would be a good idea to let Bituminous Roadways come to Columbus. Several people in the audience shouted, “One reason! One reason!”

Povolny responded that one advantage is that the current landowner gets to sell his land. He added that he was going to rely on scientific studies to say whether or not Bituminous Roadways produces toxins.

“If science says it’s clean, I’ll vote yes, and if science says it’s not, I’ll vote no,” he said. “I’m going to make the best decision for the city based on facts, not people’s perceptions.”

Many in the audience were unsatisfied. Shouts from the crowd included “You’re going to screw up!” and “Forget the facts! Do what the people want!”

The next two City Council meetings are Aug. 9 and 23 at 7 p.m. in Columbus City Hall, 16319 Kettle River Blvd.