East Grand Forks residents voice their concerns over council's decision to move asphalt plant forward
Some residents feel the council didn't make everyone aware about a proposed asphalt plant, which recently was approved for construction.
EAST GRAND FORKS – Some East Grand Forks residents say the city didn’t do enough to let them know about a proposed asphalt plant that has now received approval from City Council to move forward.
East Grand Forks residents Rob and Laura Raymond believe council members did not adequately spread the word to residents about the asphalt plant and also that the council did not listen to concerns about the plant before giving the OK for a special-use permit for the facility.
“There are people upset. There were people that were showing up on Tuesday at City Hall that had just found out about it,” Rob Raymond said. “I still think there’s a lot of people in East Grand Forks and Grand Forks that do not know about this.”
Mayor Steve Gander said spreading awareness about the plant has been an ongoing effort. He said he spoke to a number of residents about the project — including those who showed up to council meetings. He said many were aware of the the plans.
“I think the vast majority of folks saw it coming,” Gander said.
Rob Raymond said an informal petition has been circulated and took signatures from residents who don’t want to see the plant built. Laura Raymond said she and her husband gathered more than 100 signatures from residents. Others, she said, also gathered signatures.
“It was just to kind of show the City Council how many people did not want this,” Rob Raymond said. “I probably had seven full sheets of signatures and I showed it to them at the last hearing and they didn’t care. Their minds were already made up.”
Laura Raymond said she and her husband spread the word about the plant to people by handing out fliers, having signs in yards and talking with business owners.
"We are still receiving calls and texts from people saying they just found out, are very upset and angry that they weren't aware," she said. "Others are reaching out saying they want to be involved in helping to stop this from being built."
RJ Zavoral & Sons, a local earth-moving and construction services company that will own and operate the plant, tried to build a similar facility about a mile outside of East Grand Forks last year, but the proposal for was r ejected by Polk County planners and officials. The concern about that proposed plant was related to the proximity to residents, but also the proximity to a nearby bean-processing facility.
The council in February approved annexing the land the plant will be built on and the annexation process was completed in early March. RJ Zavoral & Sons applied for the special-use permit shortly after the annexation was complete. That prompted a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting with a public hearing and a City Council meeting with a public hearing, at which it was determined more discussion was needed. The special-use permit was discussed at two additional council meetings and received approval on May 3.
In a supplemental information packet provided by RJ Zavoral & Sons during the April 14 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, the company's intent is to establish a contractor yard with the option to operate an asphalt plant on-site. The company also plans to utilize the site to store construction materials and equipment.
Gander said notices were sent to residents about the pubic hearings and printed in the city’s local newspaper, The Exponent. A number of articles have been written about the plant in the Grand Forks Herald.
“That information got to the people very clearly that this is the location, this is the proposed use of that location,” Gander said. “All the way from the annexation, all the way to the zoning, all the way to the actual application for the use for an asphalt plant.”
City Administrator David Murphy said a series of notices were sent out and published in The Exponent, including on Oct. 27 and Nov. 3, for the public hearing regarding zoning the land. That meeting occurred on Nov. 10.
Also, notice of a public hearing regarding annexation was published in the East Grand Forks newspaper on Dec. 8, Dec. 15 and Dec. 22. That meeting occurred on Jan. 18.
And RJ Zavoral & Sons’ application for the special-use permit was published on March 30 and April 7. That meeting was held April 14. A council discussion followed on April 19.
Murphy said that, typically, notices are given to those who have property within 350 feet of the site. However in this case, the city expanded the mailing list to include more residents.
Laura Raymond said only one resident received notice of the plant.
Along with the notices, Gander said all meetings were open to the public and streamed on the city’s Facebook page and YouTube channel as well as channel 15 for Midco subscribers.
Gander said he was happy to see the turnout to the council meetings and hear from the residents about their concerns, including listening to residents when the public hearing period had ended for the final decision made during the May 3 council meeting.
“When that hall fills up for a meeting like this it makes me happy because this is how we do the people’s work. If there’s a concern, if there’s an issue and they fill that hall and make those concerns known, that’s what we’re all about,” he said. “Even in that final meeting where technically the public hearing had ended, we wanted to hear from them once more. They were there, they had concerns, they had things to share. We want to hear it right to the very last moment of making a decision. Those people matter to us.”
However, Laura Raymond said she and some others felt the council didn't listen.
"People don't think their voices were heard or (council members) didn't care," she said.
She commended council member Clarence Vetter, who voted against the special-use permit. He felt the conditions wouldn't be enough to alleviate concerns .
Among the top worries of residents are what they believe could be health hazards, environmental effects, traffic impacts, decreases to property value and quality-of-life issues. The Raymonds said council members have been provided with information describing the concerns, medical research and complaints related to living near an asphalt plant.
“But with all of the evidence, all the data, all the facts that we had, it was like the City Council did not even care,” Rob Raymond said.
East Grand Forks resident Carrie Swatlowski said she is concerned about how the plant could effect her child.
"I'm very concerned because we have a child with asthma," Swatlowski said.
John Jeffrey, a supervisor with the Huntsville Township, said his concerns also are related to the effects the plant will cause on those around it.
"My concern is more from the practical side that you're going to have a plant there that is probably going to have dust, probably smell," he said. "The question is how far is that going to go?"
Jeffrey asked the council to consider giving RJ Zavoral & Sons a permit that would be in effect for one year to answer some of the unknowns about the plant's impacts on surrounding residents. The council decided not to pursue an interim permit.
Gander said his top three concerns regarding the plant moving forward include being mindful and intentional about maintaining public health, being good neighbors to the properties adjacent to where the plant will go and maintaining the appearance of the community. Gander said he will do everything to ensure those concerns are managed.
“If going forward one of those three aren’t being taken care of, I’ll do everything I can to make sure those three are being taken care of,” he said.
The next, and final, steps are to complete the findings of facts and the platting of the land. City Planner Nancy Ellis said findings of facts will be heard on May 17, and the platting will be completed soon after.
Rob Raymond said residents will continue to fight against the asphalt plant. He said some residents are talking about filing a lawsuit against the city.
“There are statues where we can sue. I also presented the City Council with that information too, but they again didn’t seem to care,” Rob Raymond said. “We've just got to lick our wounds and keep fighting.”