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Concrete plant still homeless (05/19/2013)
By Chris Rogers

River City Ready Mix is searching for a home. The La Crosse-based ready-mix concrete company first sought a berth in Winona and has now turned its sights to Goodview. The company promises six to eight new jobs and top-quality control of environmental, aesthetic, and auditory nuisances, but some area businesses and residents have not been keen on having a concrete plant as a neighbor. Even the city of Winona's economic development branch declined to support the company's expansion.

In early April the company sought approval to join JT Schain Industrial Park, a former Winona Port Authority-owned site adjacent to the Winona Middle School. A move there would have required the support of a super majority of property owners in the park to change private covenants that prohibit heavier industrial uses in the park. City zoning would have allowed the plan, but the the fate of the company's hopes for the site lay in the hands of the business owners who currently occupy the park.

Apparently the necessary support was not there. According to one business owner in the park, a number of other businesses did not want the ready mix plant to move in, and so the plan failed. The companies who reportedly opposed the concrete plant either could not be reached or declined to comment.

Economic development officials did not seem to know exactly how other property owners responded to the proposed covenant changes. The manager of one company declined to comment on what happened to the proposal saying, "That would be a question for Lucy McMartin; she would know." McMartin, the Executive Secretary of the Winona Port Authority and Economic Development Coordinator for the city of Winona, said she did not know what happened to the proposal.

For its part, the Winona Port Authority did not support the proposal. The Port Authority owns one lot in the park, and, as a property owner, could have voted to support the concrete plant. The Port Authority took a diplomatic stance, opting to remain neutral.

Port Authority board member Allyn Thurley mentioned concerns he had received from some residents who would have been back-door neighbors to the new concrete plant. Board member George Borzyskowksi said, "The covenants there were put in place for a reason […] to keep it light manufacturing, for the neighborhood, and I feel that's what the area was developed for."

Board member Dana Johnson voiced what ultimately was adopted by the board, to "abstain and let the neighbors decide."

Board members pointed out that the Port Authority owns such a small share in the park (votes are weighted by acreage) that a yes or no vote by the board would have been inconsequential.

Early this month, River City Ready Mix appeared before the Goodview City Council with a plan to establish its facility in a light manufacturing zone on the east side of Lake Goodview. Around 35 people packed the city council chambers and the hallway outside, including company representatives, business partners, and numerous concerned citizens. Residents voiced worries about reduced property values, noise, cement and fly ash dust, and wastewater from the site contaminating Lake Goodview. The proposed facility would require a conditional use permit from the city of Goodview.

Nearby resident Peter Watkins said the concrete plant and the potential loss of property value has already caused him financial problems. "Until this situation is resolved, [the bank] is not willing to close my loan," he said.

River City Ready Mix Vice President Luke Knadle told the council and citizens that the company would hire all six to eight jobs locally, contribute to the city's tax base, construct a 12-foot concrete wall to block noise, contain all wastewater in sealed holding ponds, and use a centralized dust collector to help insure that "it remains a sealed facility—no cement powder will be released outside."

Dust, materials storage, and wastewater discharges at concrete plants are subject to rules and permitting through the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Watkins denounced the city for notifying "the bare minimum" number of residents that the meeting was taking place. Nearby business owner James Jarvis said that he fell within the radius of properties the city is legally required to notify, yet he said he was only informally told that "a decorative stone company" was being considered.

Ultimately, the council decided to delay further hearings on the issue, and their decision, until Monday, May 20, in part because nearly half of those gathered for the public meeting could not fit inside the council chambers to hear Knadle's presentation and the council's discussion. The issue will be discussed at Monday's meeting at 5 p.m. in the Goodview Fire Hall, 4135 West Fifth Street.

Other locations nearby are appropriately zoned for such a facility, including the city of Winona's Technology Park. Knadle said that the company had been considering other locations in the area, including sites in Winona, but declined to comment on why the company was not currently pursuing a spot at Technology Park. McMartin said that the company had not expressed interest to her in other locations within Winona. 


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