Bituminous Roadways wants to build a new asphalt plant in the north metro, where Interstates 35W and 35E converge in Columbus.
But opponents, including Running Aces Casino & Racetrack, aren’t happy about the prospect of 250 or more open-bed trucks spewing diesel fumes and gravel dust while traversing the access road just 50 feet away on a daily basis.
The Columbus City Council on Wednesday tabled a vote on rezoning the land and approving a preliminary plat request.
Taro Ito, CEO of Running Aces, and his attorney, Tony Edwards, presented the council with petitions signed by more than 1,600 people opposed to the plant.
“I want to make it clear, in no way are we disparaging Bituminous,” Ito said Tuesday. “By all my research they’re a really well-run company. All I’m saying is that this may not be the right location for it.”
Ito said Running Aces plans to break ground for an 80-room hotel in September.
“They [Bituminous] bring in gravel ... they bring out piping hot asphalt,” Ito said. “It smells. When I’m building a hotel and casino, that’s not a big selling point to say ‘visit my property.’ ”
The asphalt plant would be two miles from the racetrack and casino. But the trucks coming and going from the plant would have to travel on the frontage road just 60 feet from the track.
Bituminous Roadways CEO Kent Peterson said Wednesday that he’s been looking for a plant site in the north metro to service customers in that area. He said he’d like to start construction on the plant this fall and be in operation by next summer.
Bituminous Roadways, headquartered in Mendota Heights, has plants in Minneapolis, Inver Grove Heights and Shakopee.
The Columbus Planning Commission voted 3-2 in June to recommend that the council change the zoning from light industrial to commercial industrial.
On Wednesday night, Ken Rohlf, an attorney for Bituminous, suggested that the council instead direct city staff to amend the current zoning code and issue a conditional use permit to the plant. The council’s move sends the issue back to the Planning Commission, which will hold a public hearing at a future date.
Peterson said he would be willing to route trucks away from the racetrack on race days — Tuesday evenings and Saturdays and Sundays.
“I’ve talked to them about that,” he said. “We talked about how a big day at our plant would produce about 500 one-way trucks from our plant. Half would go north and half south. That would be 250 one-way trips past the horse track on a big day.”
He said he’s also open to other concessions, including covering the truck beds.
The company’s Shakopee plant is about the same distance from Canterbury Park racetrack, Peterson added.
The Minnesota Racing Commission (MRC) and Dr. Lynn Hovda, MRC’s chief veterinarian, wrote letters expressing their concerns that dust and emissions from the trucks would be harmful to the horses and those who work with the horses.
“These risks are particularly severe when the horses are racing or exercising,” she wrote.
She wrote she also was concerned about the noise and vibration from the trucks causing stress in the horses, which can lead to severe physical effects.
“In short, it’s likely that the dump truck traffic created by the asphalt plant would shorten horses’ lives, and make their lives worse,” Hovda wrote. “This troubles me greatly.”
Ralph Strangis, chair of the MRC, said in his letter that trucks would be passing the track hundreds of times a day between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Racehorses use the track for training six days a week from 7 a.m. to noon and starting at 6 p.m. in the evening during the summer racing season.
More than four dozen neighbors attended the meeting.
“As a horsewoman I don’t like the idea of the plant,” said Peg Hoffman of Forest Lake. “I think we’re ruining the vision we have for our city.”
William Bobick of Columbus said, “This makes no sense to me. Why there? I’m going to be smelling asphalt the rest of my life.”
Ito said the proposed plant poses other risks for the casino’s survival, as well. Even if studies show that the dust and emissions from the trucks aren’t harmful to the horses and humans, “if the perception of the horse owners is that it is, these horse people have choices.
“If they choose not to race here, real or perception that this is a threat, and they don’t come to Running Aces, that jeopardizes our meets. By regulatory statutes, we must run 50 days a year as a requirement to operate the card room.”
Ito said his operation employs 750 people and contributes $176 million to the state economy each year. The plant, he said, would employ just five people.
Mayor Dave Povolny said he wants scientific studies, not anecdotal evidence, that the dust and emissions would hurt the horses.
“If the science says it’s clean and not going to be a problem, I’m probably going to vote for [the plant]. If it doesn’t, I’m not going to vote for it.”