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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

From Hero to Zero on the Environment: Washington County Commissioner Karla Bigham

Update 10-2015: Bigham voted in favor of garbage burning plan supported  by forced mandates on haulers to deliver to only the now government owned facility in Newport. See approval of 9-22-15 County board minutes at the October 20th board meeting.

Update: Bigham voted yes on August 27th decision below.

Washington County Commissioner Karla Bigham, has gone from hero to zero on the environment it appears. In 2009 when she was a State legislator she co-authored HF690 a clean air bill that in part was: "requiring decreased emission of criteria air pollutants and greenhouse gas pollution from new motor vehicles; requiring adoption of low emission standards for motor vehicles" yet in the papers of late and on the May 28th vote to proceed she is seemingly doing everything she can to support buying a currently privately owned facility (RRT) that feeds hundreds of thousands of tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) to incinerators in Red Wing and Mankato. A 1980s practice of waste disposal that does not increase recycling or "zero waste." Rather, the waste RRT sends out to be burned puts tons of greenhouse gas emissions into Minnesota air. (read more at end of article links)

Other environmental legislation Bigham wrote when she served a short while as a legislator:
-A bill to end incinerating at 3M (yet now is supporting the practice through the coming vote on August 27th to purchase RRT). 
-Co-authored a bill supporting plastic bag recycling (HF576)
-Co-authored a bill putting in plans for the State to include "green" infrastructure (HF5).

Bigham used to be a champion for the environment as a legislator and now it appears is the champion of failing her former principles.

Please contact commissioner Bigham today (8-26) and tell her to vote no on tomorrow's $170,000,000 vote that includes $24.4 million for a facility to prep garbage for incineration.

Tell the following members to at least postpone the vote until a side by side recycling or zero waste plan is put next to the RRT buyout that is currently the only option on the table for the August 27th vote.  

Ramsey County District 1 <>
Ramsey County District 2 <>
Ramsey County District 3 <>
Ramsey County District 4 <>
Ramsey County District 5 <>
Ramsey County District 6 <>
Ramsey County District 7 <>
(phone for all: 651-266-8350)

Washington County District 1 <>, 651-430-6211
Washington County District 2 <>, 651-738-2425
Washington County District 3 <>, 651-430-6213
Washington County District 4 <>, 651-430-6214
Washington County District 5 <>, 651-430-6215

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Local Hauler Struggles to Stay Open in Midst of County Red Tape and Private Sector Take Over

Two months ago we sent a letter to each of the 50+ Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Haulers who are registered in Washington and Ramsey County warning them of the coming proposed changes to their industry by the Ramsey/Washington County Resource Recovery Board. The letter informed them what the proposed changes are and that it's in their best interest to get involved before the vote on August 27th. we covered these impacts in the following op-eds:

Part 1: 7 to 2 vote, Washington/Ramsey County to Take Over Private Sector Garbage Processing
Part 2: The $170 Million Dollar Washington/Ramsey County Plan to Take Over Private Sector Garbage Processing
Part 3: Project Board Chair Fran Miron Responds to Concerns Regarding Trash Processing Facility Buyout

we received several replies, all from the small local haulers who feel the proposed changes are for the best interest of the Counties and large haulers and certainly not for the environment or residents. They went on to explain how the waste designation (or flow control) rule that will be put in place to only deliver MSW to what may become the Counties owned Garbage Processing Facility in Newport is most troubling Because:
1.) The facility is located in South Washington County and the mandate would create a monopoly to deliver to only that inconvenient location.
2.) Once the mandate is in place the Counties are planning to end the hauler rebate that currently levels the heavier tipping fees at the facility because the waste is sent out to be burned far away in Redwing or Mankato. (see the Part 2 article to understand the drastic cost increase)
3.) Once the government introduces itself into the private sector garbage industry they can implement even greater free market killing rules such as single hauler mandates.  This is when a single MSW hauler is chosen by the government to provide service to the residents, taking away their right to choose. Sound impossibly un-American? Look no further than May of 2015, where Bloomington is the latest city to attempt to implement this job killing rule as covered in the Star Tribune article: Single-hauler trash pickup plan rouses Bloomington residents 

However, one response we received took our belief that this was a new problem and turned it upside down. 

A gentleman named Dan Theobald, owner of Dan's Container Service in Newport, reached out to me to explain his struggle to stay open in the face of local red tape. Bureaucratic approval for multiple licenses with government systems that do not communicate with each other; oppressively complex and time-consuming appeals process where you are guilty until proven innocent; and any hair splitting, foot dragging, entity can have you shut down for weeks as a decision to allow a hauling business to operate is considered.

While his competition was busy dealing in volume and simply taking loads straight to the landfill. Mr. Theobald provided affordable rates with, what at the time was, revolutionary organization and efficiency. For decades he operated this way taking customer loads and separating them to maximize efficiently what was disposed, recycled, or composted. This practice not only helped his business, it helped the environment because containers weren't dumped in landfills regardless of their contents. Newport wasn't impressed and the city council minutes from the time prove their frustration with not being able to trespass on Mr Theobald's property to see if he was operating his business at his rural residential home.

It wasn't always this way for Mr. Theobald, he states. When he looked to start his Hauling and Container Service to provide recycling and disposal service to the area 45 years ago the City of Newport welcomed him. He confirmed before buying his rural property there that he could operate his business. He received permission and in 1977 he opened. Delivering containers (or some may call dumpsters) to customers to fill and followed disposal rules to the T. Things were great until 1990 when the city decided to crack down on a one size fits all rule against businesses operating out of residential properties. Mr Theobald was in the cross hairs.

Looking at Theobald's property, it is in an area that remains rural to this day, no one would know he used to park a couple trucks and a few of his containers on his land surrounded by thick woods down his long driveway. Not unlike any other American who would want to do the same in his situation. Why have a costly brick and mortar business front when you can have a phone and a dispatch from home? Contractors of all types enjoy this common sense, work from home, freedom.

When the city of Newport failed to shut Theobald down for over reaching charges of operating a business from his home they put a rule to not allow sorting and recycling south of I-494. In 1990 Newport served Mr Theobald a cease and desist order and lost in the County court. He thought it was the end of his troubles; however the City returned with Washington County who told him to get a license to operate a transfer station even though the County judge from his 1990 case ruled he could operate his business in this capacity. Despite holding on to his belief he was not technically a transfer station he agreed to get the extra license.  As transfer stations are typically large scale operations dealing with dozens of trucks coming and going every hour and heavy equipment separating waste. Mr Theobald knew it would cost more money to fight to explain the fact he was just hand sorting some of his containers... not operating a transfer station. So out of desperation he complied and obtained a "permit by rule" license from the State and a "Solid Waste Transfer Station" license from the County in addition to the hauling license he's maintained. 

Again, Mr Theobald thought he could move on and run his small business in Peace. He had every license a hauler could have and was faithfully renewing them and doing everything to meet or exceed government requirements. He even sold half the half of his business that did trash pickup opting to only operate his container service.
Occasionally State inspectors would come by on site because MPCA officials do not require a reason to inspect. we confirmed he's been in compliance with the MPCA at every inspection having at most given warning about cat liter, leaves, and some tires and later passed on re-inspection.
Through it all Mr Theobald and his business have survived, wanting only to provide for his family with a service the community needs in an environmentally conscious manner. He certainly doesn't complain. He only wishes to survive and work. In our talks he mentions nothing about the pain of the recession, the struggles with increasing federal mandates, or even his own health that has taken him away from working from time to time in recent years.

Yet what may be his life's work undoing is the fact Washington County denied his April hauling license application and his appeal. For 45 years he's maintained it and even kept the "transfer station" license active too. He reports the county hand delivered the denial of his hauling license aplication after four months on July 22nd for two reasons:
1.) "legal Entity Status" 
2.) for operating "a closed transfer station" 

After he sent an appeal on August 3rd to plead the following facts he was told on August 7th that he would have to wait for a hearing instead of simply getting an answer, or better yet, his license. 

1.) Dan's Container is in fact registered and in good standing with the Secretary of State and is a legal entity.  Mr Theobald states he was in good standing with the SOS today and when he first applied in April. Anyone can see that he's telling the truth:

2.) Whether Mr Theobald has a closed transfer station or not should have nothing to do with obtaining a hauling license. However, when he applied in April it was active. He closed his "transfer station" in June. He's no different than any other citizen with a truck, insurance, and all the other requirements met who are applying for a hauling license. Especially if there is no evidence he's violating any laws.

Mr. Theobald states he is losing income everyday because he is unable to operate. A business he's owned for over 45 years, has a flawless reputation with his happy customers, and is now at serious risk of closing he states. Naturally, he's desperate to get back to work.

we brought all this evidence to the Washington County Department of Public Health and Environment who denied his ap. we asked: 
Can you or your office provide insight on why Mr. Theobald appears to be singled out like this? 

From the denial of his initial 2015 hauling license application in April all the way through the denial of it four months late in July, to his desperate appeal being answered four days later with notice he's being handed down the chain of command for a hearing on an unknown date.
[As of 8-20, Theobald reports he still does not have a hearing date]

If you insist he is not being singled out than why does it appear Mr. Theobald is having this horrible experience trying to work with your department to get his hauling license of 45 years back?

On August 14th, Jeff Travis, the Senior Program Manager responded:
"The data requested is classified as confidential civil investigative data by virtue of a pending contested case. Therefore no data is available to you at this time."

However, this is not a confidential case. Mr Theobald is desperate to get back to work and has turned to the public and wants to know why he can not have his hauling license or a hearing as soon as possible. Like anyone of us would in his situation.

If you were a blue collar worker in his shoes or his employee's shoes, would you be able to afford weeks without pay? 

This is how our Washington County treats one of it's hard working businesses who's been serving locally for over 45 years. He has a flawless record with his customers. we contacted some of his regulars and they state they use Dan's not just because he's about $100 more affordable than the competition, but that he goes the extra mile for his customers.

Please share Dan's story and help him get his business back. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Lake Elmo Will Have to Accept Major Development with the Gateway Corridor/ Gold Line

1-2016 update: 

Lake Elmo Kicks Gateway Corridor out!

Thanks for sharing the below article and getting the word out Lake Elmo. It's truly your effort that made the difference for your beautiful city (and to keep it that way). 

9-25 update: Here's more evidence. This is coming from a March 2015 meeting about survey data and station area planning. It was not available to the public (according to the face sheet). we had to file a data practice act request to view this info and go into the County Government Center to take these pictures of the meeting data.              (see other photos from the meeting at end of this article)

8-30 update: The extent of the plans are worse than the .5 mile deep initial report here... digging deeper I've found the Gateway Corridor hired a world renowned consulting firm from New York that specializes in unraveling whatever resistance Lake Elmo may foster in this late stage. They're HR&A Advisors, Inc.
In a July 2014 letter they make it clear their task was to focused on assessing how to get the MOST development: "To determine transit’s ability to catalyze new development"

This is not the Lake Elmo we know.
What's worse: Mayor Pearson (who represents Lake Elmo on the Corridor Commission) appears to have told them Lake Elmo loves development because the firm stated on page 9: "To the north of I-94, the City of Lake Elmo envisions mixed uses and higher densities through rezoning and the provision of new infrastructure" (emphasis added)

Lake Elmo, a beautiful rural city of 8,000 residents, the majority who are strong supporters of retaining their small city charm with slow growth. Evidenced by quick replacement of city councilors, administrators, and planners who merely claim to be on the citizen's side regarding growth to get in office and decide to follow their own agenda once seated. In 2014 
two such City Councilors were replaced by "slow growth" supporters Julie Fliflet and Jill Lundgren. While Councilor Anne Smith, who's championed the cause to keep Lake Elmo growth in check, is serving her third consecutive term. 

Through it all Lake Elmo appears to be under constant pressure to embrace fast growth and development. Everyone from the Met Council to private developers view their city land as prime real estate to host development. The Met Council learned the hard way not to push Lake Elmo after they went to court against each other over growth about ten years ago. After a lengthy court battle the Met Council backed off and eased the mandate for the city to triple it's population by 2030 according to the Pioneer Press article: Lake Elmo's population won't have to triple by 2030, Met Council says . Developers are also hearing slow down with a one year moratorium on growth from Lake Elmo this year. 

Citizens of Lake Elmo are equally as passionate to control growth. The latest example is the citizen run "No Lake Elmo Airport Expansion" with a facebook page that has gained nearly 500 "likes" in less than a month They oppose the additional runway that would host just a 4% increase in air traffic by 2035 according to this Pioneer Press Article: More Lake Elmo expansion opposition: This time, the airport

However, what Lake Elmo residents and city councilors apparently do not realize is the greatest threat of forced development is coming hand in hand with the construction of the Gateway/ Gold Line mass transit corridor through the city. Last year the route was chosen by corridor planners to head east through Washington County on the Lake Elmo side of I-94. The apparently ill informed city council voted unanimously yes for this plan. This was after Afton, another city who's residents also fear fast development, gave the planners a no vote for the corridor to pass on their side of I-94. According to a Woodbury Bulletin article: Bus Rapid Transit to stay north, skip Woodbury's developed core

It's time to wake up Lake Elmo.
Since early June I've been communicating with the self proclaimed "slow growth" majority of the Lake Elmo city Council explaining the following facts/evidence to no avail (Smith, Lundgren, and Fliflet). Primarily, even if Lake Elmo residents support growth, they likely don't support the high to medium density growth the Corridor is planning to force upon you:

1.) Here’s why it’s “forced” development:
The Gateway Corridor is applying for the Federal "New Starts" grant (p.8 of  2015-2018 Gateway Corridor Strategic Communications Plan). 
When the Feds determine whether to grant funds they use a "Project Justification Rating" tool to rank the transit corridors that deserve the limited funds.

Here's how they judge: 
-mobility improvements (20%), 
-environmental benefits (10%), 
-cost effectiveness (20%), 
-operating efficiencies (10%), 
-economic development effects (20%), 
-and public transportation supportive land use (20%)

The final two criteria will attempt to be influenced by the corridor planner's .5 mile   two mile deep rezoning and build up plan our from the corridor. Corridor supporters will state these are only plans and not required... technically true; however without the rezoning of Lake Elmo the corridor would have little to no chance for the federal funding neglecting to honor this massive 40% deciding factor. As you can see in the (now outdated) screen shot of the Gateway Corridor plans (p.25) they go nearly a half mile into Lake Elmo along the entire corridor. Later plans reveal they increased the range to Two Miles deep (see update below).

 Lake Elmo, you have Corridor planners assuming they're re-zoning your city for a massive business park (fancy word for strip mall), density housing, and commercial development. In fact obtaining the federal matching funds depends on ramming this development down your throats.  

When a Citizen Advisory Council member asked Lisa Weik, the County Commissioner who heads the GWC Commission, how they plan to get cities to accept these plans she stated the development planning around the corridor would be handed over to the Met Council in 2016. As we know, the Met Council is the most influential power house in urban planning, development, and placing mandates to achieve such goals in the State. 

2.) On the July 7th County Board meeting a pro-corridor special interest group called East Metro Strong presented to the County they're: "developing a vision for transit-supported growth in the East Metro"

East Metro Strong presented to the County Board on how the Corridor is going to be a boom to your area. They are:
-Planning to accommodate the "Soaring demand for new small lots, townhouses, condos, apartments."
-"Sketch desired land uses for Communities in the transit‐corridor vision area"

​Because: "Development comes to LRT, BRT, walkable places"
​and "More than half of Minnesotans want to live in walkable, mixed‐use neighborhoods

Do you want walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods Lake Elmo?
This is just one of many groups that are planning what's best for your city and it revolves around the Corridor.

3.) All the major cities in WC with transit routes being proposed have Low income housing projects being expanded or built right on the line or the "feeder bus line" leading to the Bus Rapid Transit stations see the evidence (exception is Woodbury with high a budget to resist the influx of low income housing pre-corridor... probably lacking in Lake Elmo):

Forest Lake (Rush Line): Forest Oak: high density housing "creating tax base" 

Newport (Red Rock Corridor): Red Rock Apartments: connected to transit station 

MahtomediPiccadilly Square a couple blocks from future Rush Line Corridor route (see pic above)

Cottage Grove (Red Rock Corridor): So many crimes and shady activity they renamed the project from "Parkside" to "The Groves" and it's right on 80th for the planned feeder line stop. (google: Parkside Cottage Grove and police)

4.) If you want to get an idea of the pro-growth agenda the Gateway Corridor is actively working on than just attend a St. Paul transit event or review this 70 page document from the one that happened last month on what Station Planning for the Gateway Corridor is really all about. Some quotes for the document:  

"Create opportunities for new development/redevelopment to accommodate residents attracted by the BRT amenity and build destinations and community assets."

"Quality housing for a mix of incomes and a variety of ages is desired in order to help build strong, sustainable communities along the Gold Line"

"Facilitate subsidized affordable housing for portions of new residential development where there is a local need identified at the time of development."

"Land use change prompted by the market for BRT-accessible development

Unfortunately, this overwhelming evidence has not convinced your "slow growth" city Councilors to go public (Smith, Lundgren, and Fliflet) despite presenting all this overwhelming evidence. You are getting blindsided with development with the Gateway Corridor Lake Elmo and city councilors are publicly silent. If anything, quite the opposite. In this July 10th Star Tribune article your champion Anne Smith stated:
"A council divided on other issues is united in wanting that, she said," (referring to the Gateway Corridor) 

In all my e-mails the most reassuring comment was from Smith on 8-6-15:
I am not for it.  I understand they need municipal consent and I will not give it.In October I asked them for any reassurance they can give you and only Smith responded to defend her promise that she’s working to retain Lake Elmo charm. She pointed to on September 15th she voted against giving the special interest group East Metro Strong $20,000 to “research” how the corridor could help Lake Elmo. Simply voting no is not enough to prevent the Met Council and the State from steamrolling you in 2016 when they plan to take over planning and construction. 

One thing is for sure: It's not a matter of 'if' it's a matter of 'when'. the Corridor can not be built unless it has matching federal funds... in order to convince the feds to fund the Gold Line they need this concentrated development in Lake Elmo. 

(it's all the corridors in the Country competing with MN for federal dollars)
As the Corridor Planners told the county board: "Our competition is ahead and not waiting"... they want the best chance at funding... they do that by having plans with as high density as possible to convince the feds their corridor is going to serve the most riders and fulfill the TOD goals for the grant:

Please Contact your city councilors Lake Elmo if you don't want your city to become the next St. Paul:

Also Contact your State Senator Karin Hously who supports the construction of the Gateway Corridor despite your conservative views on growth. She authored the senate bill to fund the Gold Line in the 2015 Legislative session. 

Don't forget to thank your State House Rep Kathy Lohmer for understanding all that's at stake. She supports investment in roads and bridges and opposes the construction of the corridor.

Read more here: 

Exclusive: 8 local Republican Legislators Explain their Position on Transit

Also check out:

At Her Own Crossroads: Will Representative Fenton Lead or Appease

Lake Elmo, it looks like you're being lied to... it looks like we're all being lied too:

More photos from the spring meeting: 

8-24 update: 
The planners have released plans to re-route some of the corridor out of LE. It's discussed in this star tribune article from Sunday 8/23 stating they're making the change for the "growth shy Lake Elmo." 

However, before considering this a victory for those who wish to protect Lake Elmo realize the fact is the change is only removing .9 of a mile from the 3.9 miles that the corridor takes in Lake Elmo 

See original picture below

And with the change there's no proof that it will change the development plans for the .9 mile section