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Scrap recycler disputes state's focus on its dust

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: April 10, 2015 - 3:36 PM

A large scrap metal recycler on the city’s upper riverfront is claiming that a state regulator is singling it out over dust emissions and asserting that it has taken every step available to control such particles from its riverside yard.

Writing for Northern Metal Recycling, Michael Hansel, an engineer at Barr Engineering, asserted in a letter to the agency that for several half of the exceedances of a total particles standard the firm couldn’t have been responsible for them. A state monitor is located across the street from the firm.

The standard was exceeded for the fifth time in six months on March 19, according to that monitor. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency posted that on a web site for the monitor but didn't alert the public via e-mail until Friday.

Hensel said Friday that after a company Data Practices Act request, it appears that only other one of the six companies within one-quarter mile of the monitor responded with data when asked by the agency about their activities. That was GAF, a shingle company.

The engineer wrote that agency officials have told him that they intend to take the issue of the exceeded standards “to the next level.”  He said in an interview that could take the form of a letter asking for changes at the firm, a warning letter or a notice of a violation.

Hensel asserted to the agency that the wind direction and lack of barge loading operations suggest that the scrap yard didn’t contribute to or was a minor factor in all but one of the episodes. He said that unless the agency can show that the firm contributed to the emissions, further controls shouldn’t be investigated.

“My client already has every conceivable control measure installed and operating, and is the most tightly controlled and regulated metal shredder in the United States,” Hensel said. The firm has three types of dust control installed in its shredder building. It also sprays the yard and sweeps it, except in freezing temperatures.

The firm began operating a shredder several years ago to increase the market value of its scrap metal at mills. That followed a long-running controversy in which some area residents sought to block a shredder at a yard where scrap has been processed since 1951.

The agency in 2012 modified the company's emissions permit, which a test conducted soon after the shredder began operating in 2009 showed that the company was violating. The state rejected the need for further environmental studies sought by area lawmakers after concluding that the shredder would increase the area’s concentration of more dangerous small particles by 2 percent.  It installed the monitor shortly after but the violations haven’t involved the small-particle standard but rather those for overall particles.

Jeff Smith, director of the agency’s industrial division, said that because the investigation of the exceedances is continuing, he’s limited in what he could say. He said that Hensel’s assertions about the agency not following protocols and location of monitors are based on misunderstandings. He characterized Northern Metal as reluctant to participate in the agency’s investigation and said he hopes for more cooperation.

(Photo: Scrap metal enters the shredder operated by Northern Metal Recycling. Staff photo by David Brewster.)

Developer razes one of longest-vacant Mpls homes

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: March 25, 2015 - 6:20 PM

A large backhoe began ripping apart a developer-owned duplex a block off of Lake of the Isles on Wednesday, erasing one of the longest-vacant homes in the city from a neighborhood that usually doesn't have them.

A crew from All-Metro Excavating began demolition of the 107-year-old duplex that developer Ross Fefercorn has owned for 16 years. It has been vacant for at least 10 years, and has been on the city's list of vacant building registration list since 2007. That extended period drew complaints from the property's East Isles neighbors.

Fefercorn told the Star Tribune last fall that he was debating whether to sell, rehab or raze the property at 2208 Irving Av. S., for which he paid he paid $360,000 in 1998. He said he bought the duplex with the idea that he might live there some day, but he ran into unforeseen structural problems after he began to gut it.

Fefercorn said via e-mail Wednesday that he was tied up in meetings and not immediately available for comment on future plans for the lot.

The house was a personal project for a developer who lives a few blocks away in the Wedge area.  He's developed commercial and residential projects from north Minneapolis to Mendota Heights. They include single-family housing along the Humboldt Greenway and Track 29 apartments along the Midtown Greenway.

Neighbors complained to City Hall about the house, but city officials said the house was secure and its condition didn't warrant them ordering a demolition.  The property drew complaints of unkempt vegetation, peeling paint and trash issues, attracting 22 inspection citations in 11 years.

Frustration over the property among neighbors boiled over at a East Isles Residents Associaiton meeting two years ago, where some neighbors suggested the city not approve any more deals for Fefercorn until the property was fixed up. 

The city registration fee for boarded housing doubled Fefercorn's annual property tax for the property to $16,000. The city said that Fefercorn took steps toward demolishing the building in 2009 but didn;t folow through.

(Photo: Fefercorn at the site of the Track 29 housing in 2012. Staff photo by Bruce Bisping.)


Positions harden in Graco easement impasse

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: March 12, 2015 - 1:55 PM

Both sides have buttressed their positions as they prepare for a meeting next week to see if an impasse can be resolved involving an easement for a riverside trail over land owned by Graco Minnesota Inc.

Representatives of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the city and Graco are scheduled to meet next week to try to resolve a situation in which Graco is insisting on buying part of a nearby piece of Park Board property before it grants an easement for a trail that has been scheduled for construction later this year. It's the first meeting involving all three parties in at least a year, Park Board President Liz Wielinski said.

The company faces a high bar in seeking to buy two acres of parkland on the north side of the Plymouth Avenue Bridge in northeast Minneapolis. The Park Board reached a $7.7 million purchase agreement for the 11-acre site in 2010 and plans to recreate as wildlife habitat an island that existed historically

"I don't sell parkland," said Wielinski, the area's commissioner.. There's also a high bar in the law.  Six of the nine commissioners must vote for a land sale for it to go ahead, and a district judge's approval is required in a proceeding in which any citizen can intervene. 

The company has offered a additional argument for why it wants to build corporate offices on a portion of nearby Park Board land that was purchased by the Park Board from Scherer lumber.

Although Graco has large amounts of open space on its campus of more than 20 acres, spokesman Bryce Hallowell said the company wants a strip of Scherer property to buffer the park from its factory and loading dock area. Hallowell said Graco is concerned that developing the Scherer property without a buffering strip of offices could create pressure from park users against Graco's operations.

"What do you think the pressure will be to do something with Graco?" he asked, describing trucks running past the park from the loading dock across the street. "Let's all work to make this the best park," Hallowell said. He said that Graco still sees the Park Board selling part of the Scherer property as a condition for granting an easement.

Graco's concern for a buffer was rejected by Third Ward City Council Member Jacob Frey. "I think that's silly. Nobody's pushing Graco out of there," Frey said. "They've been good neighbors. They made an agreement and they need to live up to it."

Moreover, Wielinski said, concept plans for the Scherer site already outline a building that would shield park users from Graco's closest operations. The idea is that this building would offer park would house recreation-related services and generate lease payments to help finance park operations.

Graco agreed to grant the trail easement in a 2000 redevelopment agreement with the city that allowed Graco to devote some of the taxes generated by its expansion to financing site improvements. Graco argues that commitment ended in 2009 when the city certified that Graco had completed "all building construction and other physical improvements" in the redevelopment agreement. The easement is listed as a public improvement in the agreement.

But the city's development agency asserted in an e-mail to the Star Tribune that it has not waived the easement requirement, although it didn't respond when asked for its reasoning. Graco agency met last Friday with development agency representatives, but not the Park Board, which met Tuesday with agency officials. The development agency didn't respond to an inquiry this week about whether progress was made at that meeting,

Graco's Hallowell said, "The dialog was welcome and constructive as we try to work toward an approach that is holistic on riverfront development." But the firm still wants to buy the Scherer buffer in exchange for the easement.       

One new factor Frey revealed this week is that the easement is also required under the conditional use permit the city granted Graco for its expansion. "That conditional use permit is still enforceable 150 percent," he said. "I'm confident we can work something out, but that doesn't mean we don't have some serious tools in our shed."

The Park Board already has voted to condemn Graco land for the easement if it doesn't;t get that permission through negotiations. But it also needs to weigh the legal cost of doing so, as well as the easement price that could be awarded by a court. Park commissioner John Erwin said he doesn't think that Minneapolis taxpayers should have to bear those costs. Erwin said he's asked Park Board legal advisors whether it would have a breach-of-contract case against Graco.

Graco needs to weigh the public beating it has taken from some northeast residents who charge that it reneged on a deal for an easement that was a sop to those who felt that its two-block-long factory just south of the Broadway Avenue Bridge was too close to the river.

The issue now has some additional time to play out. Park officials said they earlier faced a May 31 deadline under a $1 million federal trail grant for getting control of trail right of way. More recent information indicates that the project must be ready for bids by Sept. 30.    


Minneapolis cuts graffiti cleanup funds

Posted by: Updated: December 26, 2014 - 3:26 PM

By Erin Golden

Star Tribune Staff Writer

Minneapolis residents will have to be more vigilant about fighting graffiti in the new year.

Residents have always been responsible for removing graffiti from their property, but in recent years the city has provided help through a handful of prevention and cleanup efforts. Those programs, however, were cut from next year’s budget -- prompting the city to send notices to some residents, reminding them that they’ll need to take care of graffiti on their own.

The city won’t be funding its “Innovative Graffiti Prevention” micro grant program, which helped neighborhood groups with public art projects that were meant to deter graffiti. In recent years, the city budgeted amounts ranging from $75,000 to $150,000 for projects like utility box art wraps in the Longfellow neighborhood, a mural and graffiti patrol around Cedar-Riverside and anti-graffiti education programs in Powderhorn Park.

Since 2008 -- with the exception of 2010, when the program was not offered -- the city has funded an average of 11 projects per year, which each receiving up to $10,000.

Meanwhile, the city will also be cutting a program that helped property owners clean up gang-related or obscene graffiti that was located within five feet of the public right of way. The city didn’t set aside a specific amount of money, but provided cleanup at no charge to property owners.

Finally, it has also dropped a three-year-old “Graffiti Shadow Program,” which provided a second notice to property owners who had been notified about removing graffiti and failed to do so. The program also funded the cost of a second inspection.

Casper Hill, a spokesman for the city, said property owners are notified about graffiti by mail and have seven days to clean it up. If that doesn’t happen, the city can paint over the mess and bill the property owner.

“As always, it’s the responsibility of property owners to remove graffiti from their vandalized properties,” he said.

The $1.2 billion budget passed by the council earlier this month includes just over $1 million for documenting and removing graffiti around the city. That’s down slightly from the line item in this year’s budget, which provided $1.3 million.

Graffiti is the most common problem reported on the city’s 311 phone line, with the largest number of complaints coming from south Minneapolis.

Documents detail Community Action of MPLS misspending

Posted by: Alejandra Matos Updated: December 8, 2014 - 4:03 PM

Board members and the chief executive of Community Action of Minneapolis paid at least $1,200 on spa treatments over three years while attending their annual retreat at Arrowwood Resort in Alexandria. 

New details have emerged about the organization's misspending after the Star Tribune obtained dozens of documents from the Department Of Human Services, which conducted an internal audit of the organization's spending for fiscal years 2012 and 2013. 

Patty Davis, chief executive officer Bill Davis's partner, spent $168 on a 80 minute stone massage and a scalp facial in 2012. Board members Evelyn LaRue and Terri Hayden also received a 50-minute signature massage for $80 dollars each. 

Neither Davis nor the fromer board members could be reached for comment.

The organization also spent over $6,000 on a holiday party in 2011.

A Ramsey County judge recently appointed a receiver over the non-profit's finances to determine how much money it owes the state. Community Action board is virtually non-existent and Davis was suspended indefinitely without pay. 

The documents also reveal the concerns that several DHS employees had with the organization, and one employee asked for a more robust audit.

Minutes of a DHS and Office of Economic Opportunity meeting state that a state employee "emphasized that she wants to maintain a positive working relationship with the grantee, but that they have a history of doing the minimum to remain in compliance with the Department, and they should be aware that they are going to monitored."

Board Allowances Redacted


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