PRESTON, Minn.—Grassroots environmentalists in southeastern Minnesota have won their battle to stop construction of an electric plant powered entirely by tire-derived fuel. The executive behind the project, however, has vowed to build the facility elsewhere.
Bob Maust, president of Heartland Energy & Recycling Inc., sent a letter March 14 to Preston Mayor Kurt Reicks, withdrawing his plan to build a 23-megawatt electric facility in the town of 1,400 near the Iowa border.
Maust had planned to burn about 10 million scrap tires annually at the plant, and employ about 32. He began construction in Preston in mid-January 2004, but was forced to stop in mid-April because of citizens´ lawsuits brought by a group called Southeastern Minnesotans for Environmental Protection.
The group persuaded the Olmsted County (Minn.) District Court to order the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to reconsider the environmental impact assessment it performed on the Heartland project. Another SMEP lawsuit before the Minnesota Court of Appeals sought to overturn the air permit the agency gave Heartland in January 2004.
According to Maust, the fluidized bed technology he planned to use at the facility would allow a clean burn and present no environmental problems. Members of the SMEP, however, were concerned that fluidized bed combustion had never been used in a commercial-size TDF facility.
The SMEP also argued that no TDF-powered electric plant has ever been commercially successful, an accusation strongly disputed by representatives of the tire recycling industry.
The controversy culminated Feb. 25, when the citizens´ board of the pollution control agency ordered a new environmental impact statement on the project. This process, an agency spokeswoman said at the time, would have taken about 18 months and cost some $200,000, all of it Maust´s responsibility.
In his letter, Maust accused the environmentalists of "mob rule" and said he would seek a new location for the plant.
In a phone interview at his home in Preston, Maust said he has several potential sites for the facility, and that he is evaluating which locale offers the best incentives and the best transportation. He said he would make his decision within the next month or two.
When asked if he planned to move out of Preston, Maust said that depended on his choice of site for the new plant.
SMEP spokespersons could not be reached for comment.