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Chippewa County approves asphalt storage facility over neighbors' objections

MONTEVIDEO -- The Chippewa County Board of Commissioners approved a conditional use permit Tuesday that opens the way for Duininck Inc., of Prinsburg, to construct a large asphalt storage facility at Asbury, a hamlet about six miles north of Granite Falls.

The unanimous vote came after the commissioners refused to hear a final challenge by neighbors and opponents of the project.

"Just a huge railroad job," said Jeff Muhl, one of the neighbors, in voicing his frustration outside the courthouse after the commissioners disallowed public comments during their meeting. Neighbors of the project Jeff and Bethann Muhl and David and Karen Haroldson presented written information from an attorney charging that the county was violating its own ordinances in granting the conditional use permit.

Among the claims, they charge that the county did not consider that the industrial facility would adversely impact their property values, although county rules require such an evaluation.

They also said the county failed to consider that truck traffic generated by the facility would be funneled through Granite Falls and pass by the public school buildings there; and that the project violated the county's comprehensive plan for protecting farmland.

The commissioners reviewed the written correspondence from the residents and the response of county land and resource director Scott Williams to the charges.

But they said they would not open their meeting to discussion on the advice of their attorney.

County Attorney David Gilbertson told the commissioners they could take comments, but he cautioned them. If the matter goes to litigation, the court would hear only the evidence brought two weeks earlier to the Planning Commission.

At that earlier meeting, the Planning Commission recommended approval of the permit for the project. The Planning Commission placed 10 conditions on the permit, which were approved by the County Board of Commissioners in its action Tuesday.

The conditional use permit will allow Duininck Inc. to erect a tank capable of holding 3,971,000 gallons of asphalt cement and a loading system for it. The proposed tank -- 130 feet in diameter and 45 feet tall -- would be erected along a sidetrack of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad at Asbury. The facility would be roughly 1,200 feet from the nearest residence. That's equivalent to the setback the county requires for 400-animal unit livestock facilities, county resource director Williams told the commissioners.

Duininck Inc. intends to eventually erect four tanks at the site, but would need additional permits from the county to do so, he told the commissioners. The Planning Commission made its recommendations after hearing concerns from the residents and developing the conditions meant to keep the project in conformance with county regulations, he added.

The residents and about one dozen supporters of the residents attended the meeting. They said afterward that they might consider legal action to have their concerns addressed.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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