Our View: Will Fond du Lac’s plan stifle growth?
Duluth's leading economic development expert leveled a warning this week. Toward the end of a noontime presentation to chamber members at Clyde Iron, Brian Hanson, the president and CEO of APEX, a business and development engine, brought up the F...
Duluth’s leading economic development expert leveled a warning this week.
Toward the end of a noontime presentation to chamber members at Clyde Iron, Brian Hanson, the president and CEO of APEX, a business and development engine, brought up the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa’s application for elite Class I air quality status. That’s the status normally reserved for undeveloped and natural places like national parks and national forests. The rest of the country, including Duluth, is Class II.
“I think clean air is great. I am an environmentalist. At the same time I’m very concerned that (Class I air-quality status in our region) would limit our ability to grow: our ability to grow existing businesses; our ability to bring in new businesses; and even our ability to change businesses for the better, to make them more efficient, to make them better,” Hanson said. “I’m concerned about why we would make it any more difficult” to do business here and to attract new businesses and industries here.
The concern is legitimate and demands to be addressed with assurances offered.
OK, more assurances. The band’s Air Program Coordinator Alex Jackson did tell the News Tribune for a story last month that “Class I air status has never stopped a project or industry from moving in” and that it “never stopped a permit.” Five bands across the country already have the Class I status, which is awarded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Other states have raised concerns similar to the ones voiced by Hanson on Tuesday, however.
“It’s not going to shut anybody down; they have their permits, they’re operating at standards. What we want to keep from happening is, basically, the big things, the big industries that put out tons and tons of pollution. This helps limit some of (that) pollution,” Jackson said. “We’ve got pretty good air quality as it is and want to make sure it doesn’t get any worse.”
The band’s website offers additional information: “Class I status means that only a limited amount of pollution from new, major sources will be allowed after a certain baseline date. While Class II limits new pollution, the Class I standards offer even more protection. Existing sources will not be affected (unless they make a major modification to their operations), nor will new sources that are below major source thresholds.”
So, more stringent limits can be expected on new businesses and industries and on existing businesses and industries when they want to upgrade or expand: Sounds like Hanson and others have reason to be concerned.
Duluth and the Northland enjoy some of the cleanest air in the country. But we’re not national park-like nor can we be. People live here. They drive cars here. They go to jobs that have to operate and have some emissions. Minnesota standards for air quality are quite stringent already and are doing a good job of prohibiting pollution.
Is elite Class I air-quality status necessary? Would it do more harm than good? Could it hamper our ability to grow and prosper, as Hanson and others fear?
“I think it’s way too soon to pass judgment on whether it’s a good thing or not,” Hanson said. “But it is time to get involved and get aware.”
That can start with questions, comments and attendance at a public hearing on Oct. 2 at Black Bear Resort and Casino. Informational sessions are scheduled for 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. in the Otter Creek Room. The remaining time is reserved for public comments.
Learn about the band’s plan, comment on it and get involved while you can. After an Oct. 13 deadline for written comments, the band’s request for air-quality redesignation will be off to the federal EPA.
Information and documents related to the Fond du Lac band’s Class I air-quality plan are online at fdlrez.com/newnr/environ/airclass1.htm.
Or hard copies of the same information can be viewed at the downtown Duluth Public Library, the Superior Public Library, the Cloquet Public Library and the Fond du Lac Resource Management Building.
Written comments will be accepted until 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 13 at firstname.lastname@example.org or at Class 1 Air, Fond du Lac Air Program, 1720 Big Lake Road, Cloquet MN 55720.
A public hearing is scheduled for 2-9 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 2 in the Otter Creek Room at Black Bear Resort and Casino.