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Polk County rejects RJ Zavoral & Sons’ asphalt plant proposal

Polk County's Board of Commissioners on Tuesday morning unanimously voted down RJ Zavoral & Sons' application for an interim use permit that would have let the company operate a mobile asphalt plant about a mile outside of East Grand Forks. Opponents of the plan worried about the effect on the nearby Red Lake River, traffic backups, as well as the odor, dust, and noise the plant would produce when it was churning out asphalt.

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The proposed site of an RJ Zavoral & Sons asphalt plant and contractor yard near the intersection of Hwy. 220 and Hwy. 2. Polk County's planning commission unanimously recommended on Friday, April 23, that the county's Board of Commissioners not approve an interim use permit necessary for the plant. County board members unanimously agreed with that recommendation on Tuesday, April 27. Joe Bowen/Grand Forks Herald
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Polk County officials rejected a proposal that would have allowed a regional construction company to set up a temporary asphalt plant about a mile outside of East Grand Forks.

Members of the County Commission on Tuesday morning voted unanimously to reject RJ Zavoral & Sons’ application for an interim use permit that would have let the company operate an asphalt plant and contractor yard at the intersection of Hwy. 2 and Hwy. 220 for 10 years. County planning staff and officials recommended against the company’s proposal last week.

“It’s a tough call,” said Commissioner Jerry Jacobson, who said he supports the local business sector but was worried about the asphalt plant’s effects on nearby homes.

The construction company hoped to install a berm around the 30-acre site, then use it as a repository for the raw materials needed to make asphalt. Workers would then set up a mobile asphalt plant there as needed when the company worked on a project in the area.

At a Polk County Planning Commission meeting on Friday, April 23, a series of speakers detailed their objections to the company’s plan, fearing that the asphalt plant would depress their property values, kick up dust and foul odors, and contaminate the nearby Red Lake River. Staff at Thompsons USA Limited, the bean plant that sits about a mile from the proposed asphalt plant site, said the navy beans they process there, and the containers in which they ship those beans, are susceptible to odors.

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Jacob Snyder, an assistant environmental services administrator, said the possibility of asphalt odors hampering the nearby bean plant was “most alarming” to city staff.

“It would only take the right atmospheric conditions for less than a week to cost this company millions of dollars in damage to the products located within 1,000 feet of the proposed asphalt batching,” Snyder wrote last week in his recommendation to planning officials.

RJ Zavoral & Sons staff, however, produced a “wind rose” that shows the prevailing wind patterns around the site. The rose they showed county planners last week indicates that wind will rarely blow from the asphalt plant toward the bean plant, and construction company representatives said they’d work with bean plant staff to avoid running their plant when it might hamper the bean plant’s operations. They also noted that their construction season only briefly overlaps with the navy bean harvest.

Opponents of the company’s proposal also worried about the long hours of operation, which company staff pegged at 16 hours a day, six days a week in their application for the interim use permit but, at last week’s meeting, characterized as “max use” figures designed to give them logistical room to maneuver.

“Our intent for this site was to have it set up so that, when there’s a project bid in the area, we’d have a site that we could move into, pave the project, and move out,” John Zavoral, the company’s president and CEO, told county officials on Tuesday. “We never intended to stay there year-round. We’re looking at a 30-, 40-day schedule.”

And Rich Sanders, the county’s engineer, argued the plant would be more beneficial than not and would mean lower construction costs in the area because the county, nearby cities, and other companies could get asphalt mix there, rather than dozens of miles farther afield. But that idea would be contingent on the county approving the permit without a stipulation that the site only be used by RJ Zavoral & Sons. Sanders was interrupted, however, by County Administrator Chuck Whiting, who noted that the time for staff comments was over.

Zavoral did not immediately return a Herald request for comment shortly before noon on Tuesday.

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Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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