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East Grand Forks Mayor Steve Gander answers questions about proposed asphalt plant

The Grand Forks Herald sat down with East Grand Forks Mayor Steve Gander for 5 Questions this week to talk about the proposed asphalt plant in town.

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The Grand Forks Herald sat down with East Grand Forks Mayor Steve Gander for 5 Questions this week to talk about the proposed asphalt plant in town.
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GRAND FORKS — The Grand Forks Herald sat down with East Grand Forks Mayor Steve Gander for 5 Questions this week to talk about the proposed asphalt plant in town.

Q: What are the benefits of this plant to the citizens of East Grand Forks?

A: As far as benefits of this asphalt plant, it's important to look at the asphalt plant as (being) in conjunction with a really good employer that happens to be the Zavorals, and they plan to use this as a whole construction staging site, along with using it as an asphalt plant. The Zavorals, of course, have been around here for over 70 years. RJ Zavoral & Sons, they've employed over 200 people in the community with really good jobs. Not a lot of turnover happens there because they take good care of their people. And I could say the same (for Opp Construction), by the way, I think really highly of Opp Construction. I've known the Opp family for many years; Tom Opp, the dad, and now Greg Opp, and the culture there's great. And I can say the same with Strata (and) Jim Bradshaw. If any one of these companies, and Jim, again, (is) top notch, if any one of these companies that employs so many people, if they had an economic need within their business (and) their business model to be competitive and to be strong in the marketplace, to build one of these plants in our area, we'd have to take a close look at that. But back to the fact that it's RJ Zavoral & Sons. They've been around a long time (and) employ a lot of people, and they're looking to expand, and they have a strong footprint already in East Grand Forks. They have some corporate offices in one location, they have their shop and another and now they want to expand a construction site here and also mix asphalt. Of course, that'll be an advantage for them in the fact that you can only haul that hot mix so far and still use it on a project, so there's a limit to how far you can go. And then the farther you have to truck it, it makes you less and less competitive, so as a favorable condition for that business, we'll be able to help them stay competitive. They're going to invest $3 to $5 million into that site, which again (is) a great investment in our community, which, again, means a lot.

Q: How can East Grand Forks keep traffic manageable if it’s constructed?

A: We took great care to make sure that the highway infrastructure in and out of that site is built for this volume of traffic. (We received) word back from U.S. Highway, from NDOT, that, of course, U.S. Highway 2 (will be) no problem. The highway that runs right by there (is) well set up to handle this volume of traffic. So then if there's any concern, it could be traffic up and down what initially could be a gravel road controlling dust and making sure that that doesn't have any adverse effect on neighbors. That's built into the plan. If there's any trouble with dust being generated off that road, they'll have to knock the dust down one way or the other and make sure that's not happening to the adjacent neighborhoods. But really, we have solid word that the highway infrastructure in and out of there is going to handle this volume of traffic very easily.

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Q: How can East Grand Forks make sure the plant does not pose a health hazard to residents?

A: That's probably my number one concern going forward with anything like this is to maintain public health. You probably know in my day job I work in health care, and it's a big deal. We're here to optimize people's health. If ever there's a time (when) it's good to live in a state that has twice the standard for air quality and for emissions on a plant like this than the federal standard… That's what Minnesota has. It's exactly twice the standard of what the (government) would require for emissions from a plant like this. If ever there's a time to have those restrictions be a favorable thing, it's right now protecting our neighbors. And we got a lot of really good data from concerned citizens about toxins coming out of these plants, and it's a real thing. Absolutely toxic substances come out of an asphalt plant, yet it's all a matter of what's the concentration of the toxin for what period of time. So that that kind of exposure and the intense exposure and for the period of time. So we're going to count on the state permitting process to regulate twice as stringent a standard as what the (government) would require making sure that we keep our residents safe. And if there's any change in how they are operating the plant, they're going to have to get re-permitted. That's all built right into (it), and so the process will be certified by the state and then it will have to be kept exactly as it is. Any revision to that process would require (new certification).

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Q: How long is the plant expected to be running during each day?

A: Hours of operation will be set to be considerate of the neighbors nearby. Months of operation have been set for the summer operational months. They're going to use this plant on their own project, and if you take a look at the total number of days and hours that it could run in the year, it looks like a lot, but when you drill it down to when they, the contractor, have need of this mix, it's going to be just a limited number of days each year… But I do not have the exact hours in front of me. We're going to enforce the city's noise ordinance and what not. So it'll be mostly daylight hours during the summer months. (That’s) basically what we're looking at. With noise restrictions, (we) have a “level three” noise classification, and Minnesota Administrative Rules Chapter 73 is going to dictate the noise levels that they can reach.

Q: How can the city maintain the community’s appearance during and after construction?

A: So my top three concerns going forward, and I think they've all been pretty well addressed, one (is to) maintain public health. Number two, the one we didn't ask about, is how do we make sure that this plan is a good neighbor to the adjacent properties? The families on these farmsteads in particular, they want to enjoy a beautiful summer day free of sound, free of dust and free of the smell of asphalt being processed. Then third, and finally, how do we maintain a clean view of our city for people entering? That's kind of one of our gateways of the city wrapping around on (U.S. Highway 2). So we've built into this agreement all kinds of provisions for high trees being established there, a berm established there for aesthetics and also for sound reduction. It’s hard to be natural foliage for absorbing sounds that would come from a normal plant like this… We've built that in maintaining the aesthetics during the construction process. You'll see construction going on there for a period of time. This plant itself is really brought in and set there. It's a movable plant. What (we’re) going to be dealing with is all site prep, and that's just going to be moving soils, berming and creating the proper visual berms. They'll have to create a water reservoir that will be there in case of any sort of fire, so they’ll be required to hold water on site of a given quantity to make sure (of safety) if there would be any problems there. And again, just to the aspect of being a good neighbor to the adjacent properties, I live within about a mile of here myself. That's where my home is. And I had to ask myself, would I ever pick up the phone and call and say, “Hey, will you build an asphalt plant about a mile from my house?” Of course not. But I also have to ask myself, “Is there a better place in town for this, as identified on that site in an industrial area?” I really feel this is as good a site as we have, and asphalt is a necessary building material. I got a call from Dave Zavoral after this had gone through approval, and he said, “To your knowledge, what else can we do to make sure that we're being good neighbors to those farmsteads nearby?” and I said, “You know, the best thing you can do is open this up and take away any of their concerns by running it clean as possible, keep the sound down and keep the dust down during hours of operation (with) no holidays and avoiding some weekend fun days and so on.” I know they'll be a good neighbor. That's how this company does things. ... That made me happy, and it really gave me the sense that we're doing the right thing; being pro-business, pro-employment (and) pro-environment to the extent that this thing is going to be well-regulated and as thoughtful to the neighbors and the aesthetics coming in as we can be. I feel like we're on the right track.

Related Topics: 5 QUESTIONS
Jacob Holley joined the Grand Forks Herald as its business reporter in June 2021.

Holley's beat at the Grand Forks Herald is broad and includes a variety of topics, including small business, national trends and more.

Readers can reach Holley at jholley@gfherald.com.Follow him on Twitter @JakeHolleyMedia.
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